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Transplant & Dialysis Sport: What’s it all about?

The 5th European Transplant & Dialysis Games recently finished up in Wurzburg, Germany. I again had the honour of being Ireland Team Manager for the event. In reflecting on the experience, I got to thinking, what’s it all about and how does one measure the success of such endeavours?

In pure sporting terms, a team’s success is measured by the number of medals won but transplant & dialysis sport is about more than that. There are many competitors involved for whom simply completing their chosen events is their personal goal. These are the people for whom the relative effort involved can be greater than that of the gold medal winners.

Making the trip to another country – moving outside your comfort zone – is a huge accomplishment in itself for many people. Organ failure can turn your life on its head and it can be very easy to let it determine how you live. Participation in a transplant & dialysis sports event such as the European Games is an opportunity to show yourself, loved ones and the wider community, that it is possible to live a full life around one’s illness.

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World Summer Transplant Games 2009
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British Transplant Games 2009
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World Winter Transplant Games 2010
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European Transplant & Dialysis Games 2010
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World Summer Transplant Games 2011
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If you are interested in being part of Team Ireland for any or all of these events or if you have any questions, please contact Colin White in Donor House or e-mail him on colin@ika.ie.

The reaction of one man on dialysis to his first involvement in Transplant & Dialysis Sport sums up the positive nature of the experience. “I came home feeling for the first time that my life was not over, it had just changed.” The Games experience is a very positive one. As one member of our team so eloquently put it, “I soon learned the Games were a celebration of life, not, a remembrance of bad health and hospital beds.”

In the Irish team we encourage every level of ability to get involved in the Games experience because transplant & dialysis sport is not just about being the best in the field. It is also about being the best that you can be. If that is finishing the 100m in 33 seconds, then well done to you and maybe next time you will finish in 30 seconds!

People attend the Games for many reasons but are unified by the desire to celebrate life through sport. Speak to any of the competitors who have had a transplant and you will find a remarkable zest for life. They are keen to embrace their ‘second chance’ and many feel that by living a healthy and full life it is their way of showing gratitude to their donors and the families of the donors. Whilst everyone derives personal fulfilment from putting in a good performance at the Games it is always the donor who is at the fore-front of their thoughts. “This is for my donor,” is a common refrain heard during Games week.

The people who are on dialysis who attend the Games are an inspirational lot. In preparing for the Games they have to deal with the vagaries of their illness. Whilst, in attending the Games, they have the arduous nature of a 6 day sports event to deal with on top of the regular burdens of dialysis.

Despite this, 59 people on dialysis from across Europe attended the Games in Wurzburg. In seeking to find out why, a common thread became apparent. That is the realisation that they can play their part in giving themselves the best chance of a healthy life. It is about empowerment and taking a leading role in promoting one’s own health.

The Games experience goes beyond sport. The camaraderie between the participants born of having travelled similar paths in coping with organ failure can give great reassurance. The most effective form of education can often be learning from one’s peers.

The idea behind Transplant & Dialysis sport is two-fold. Firstly, there are the individuals involved and all the benefits they can derive from it. Secondly, it is a very positive vehicle for promoting organ donor awareness.

In Ireland we put a lot of effort into promoting awareness through the endeavours of our athletes. We have a dedicated team website, www.transplantteamireland.com, and we take on a professional journalist to provide the media with stories. It has paid off as we have helped put the importance of organ donation onto the national agenda. Our athletes have been empowered and are ambassadors for this message.

Transplant & Dialysis Sport brings together the gift of life offered so generously by the donors, and their families, and the strength of the human spirit as shown by the athletes. This is a powerful and uplifting story and a very positive way of promoting organ donation.

In conclusion, I think that Transplant & Dialysis Sport is about celebrating life and the strength and generosity of the human spirit. I believe that its success is measured in the lifestyle it encourages – regular exercise and good friendship. Although I have only been involved for a short time, I have seen many positive lifestyle changes inspired by events such as the European Transplant & Dialysis Games which give people a clear goal to aim for. I have also been fortunate to witness first hand what true friendship is all about.

Transplant & Dialysis Sport is a magical entity and it is beholden on all of us already involved to ‘share the feeling’ with others. I, for one, find it a truly enriching experience and look forward to many more years of involvement and meeting many more inspirational people. Hosting the next European Transplant & Dialysis Games in Dublin in 2010 (www.2010newlife.com) will be a great challenge but will also be a truly rewarding journey!

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