British Transplant Games: In the Swim

We have a friend: let’s call him Carl (well, it is his name). Carl has just won bronze in the 50m freestyle at the Swimming Gala at the British Transplant Games.  That short but intensive training paid off.

Medal winners Carl, left, with Alistair and Mike

Medal winners Carl, left, with Alistair and Mike

Cim got to know Carl when they were both in St. George’s Hospital Tooting. Carl had just had a kidney transplant, Cim was just about to. There are easier ways to make friends, but that’s what happened to us.

I’d like to think we had some hand in helping him on his way to his bronze medal. We encouraged him to take part, we listened to his worries about training and his paranoia about finishing last, and we shouted ourselves hoarse when the starter’s gun went off. You could say we were a team. And in return, Carl inspired us.

That seems to be the way things are at the Transplant Games, all over the Coventry Leisure Centre, groups of people like Carl and us from different parts of the country, representing their hospitals, swimming for gold. At least, that’s what it looks like, but really, they are representing the possibility of what life after a transplant is about.

While we were waiting for Carl, we talked to the parents of another swimmer, Ben, who won every race he entered – the Michael Phelps of the games. Luckily for Carl, he was in a different age group. Ben had played water polo for England as a young lad and was about to be picked to go to the Olympics when he got leukaemia. A bone marrow transplant saved him and once more he’s tearing up and down the lanes doing what he does best.

Finally, it came to the 50m freestyle. Carl looked like he was going to come second, but the last 10 metres seemed longer than the first 40 and he slipped to third. Anyway, he seemed to come out satisfied, jokingly threatening to blame his anaemia nurse for not giving him the iron injection that he claims would have given him the staying power to take him up a medal position.

Carl has the Games bug. He knows what he needs to do for the Bath Games in 2010.  Perhaps I’ll go in for the donor run. Maybe even Cim will do something. You want to get close to that 30 second mark? We’re here to encourage you and Ben and all those from Exeter to Glasgow. Cheering you all on. So much for the loneliness of the short-distance swimmer.

Coming soon: the meaning of poignant and what we had for dinner.

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The British Transplant Games

How do you cope with a seething mass of bodies scrambling to get through the doors into the Coventry city leisure centre? Normally, quite well? But what if you realise that 75% or more of that seething mass have had a transplant? If you are anything like me, you feel humbled.

British Transplant Games 2009 Swimmers Arrive

British Transplant Games 2009 Swimmers Arrive

Where have we been? Not on holiday, unless you count the weekend first weekend in August when we were in Coventry – well, Warwick University –  venue for the 2009 British Transplant Games. This was our first Transplant Games, and I have no doubt it will be the first in a long line that will include the World Transplant Games in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2011.

Competitors in The Games are all transplantees: from kidney, to heart, to bone marrow and everything else. It’s the only sporting event where you get banned if you’re NOT on steroids.

When it comes to the Olympic Games, does anyone really believe “it’s the taking part that counts”? The drug cheats, the vast budgets, the coca-cola-isation of the Olympian ideal have, for many, taken the shine off the medals. At the Transplant Games, that maxim is real for people; taking part means you’ve already won, and in a most cases, you’ve cheated death.

Still, there are medals to be won in swimming, cycling, and track and field. There is an adult games and there are the children’s games. There is much partying and it finishes with the Gala Dinner.

Over the next few days, we’ll bring you a taste of the whole event, from the loneliness of the short distance swimmer, to the poignancy of the under fives 20m sprint, and how you can feel normal and incredibly special at the same time.

National Transplant Week: The Missing Piece?

I’m already a day late with reporting on what is probably the most important week of the year for the Transplant Trust. Yes, the launch of National Transplant Week was Monday 6 July. But at least we were there to report it.

It was a good and enjoyable evening, (fine) with some insightful talks given by illustrious speakers and valuable points made by distinguished guests (tick). There was inspiration in abundance and some great networking opportunities and the forging of friendships (great!). So why was I left with a feeling of something missing?

National Transplant Week is A big deal for the Transplant Trust: the opportunity for the charity to put itself in the limelight for a week and provide some impetus for the lofty goals it has set itself. This year’s target is 100,000 new registrations to the Organ Donor Register. There’s even a great idea (which I’ll tell you about later). This morning, I found myself thinking, who was there to get the word out?

I suppose I was expecting media: national press would’ve be great. Potential sponsors in abundance would’ve been great too. There were some directors and PR people among the delegates. There were also political representatives: Jean-Paul Maytam from the Department of Health spoke eloquently, Baroness Ilora Finlay dropped by on the way to vote for an important piece of legislation in the House of Lords. But perhaps the most important guest for me was Sarah Springett singer from the band The Floe. She came, told her story and promised to get the word out. Today I realised Sarah was my clue to what that nagging “missing” was: me.

The Floe? oh! so not “The Flow” then? I’m not exactly in a position to pass comment on either artistic merit, or whether I should have asked for an autograph for my nieces. However, she gave me an insight. Sarah Springett is an organ donor. 7 months ago, she donated a kidney to her boyfriend, who was also there. Both are doing well, which is great, but  Sarah has pledged to put the word out from the vantage point she has in popular culture. On top of that, she has a song “I hope you know” to be released later this year, with some profits going to the Transplant Trust.

You see, Sarah Springett has taken the job on herself. She’s not waiting for any press to do the job for her and, in what we are told is a bad year for charities in general, that is exactly the sort of thing the Transplant Trust needs. We have this blog, we do some talks, but I’m on Twitter and Facebook – everybody has access to these. It’s time to put it about a bit.

And so, that great idea? “The Wall of Life” a new website: www.walloflife.org.uk will surely help with the target of registrations to the Organ Donor Register. I suggest you have a look – this post is already too long.

We felt, already, last night, that it was time for a new project, and now I know why: if we are going to make an impact on those Organ Donor Register figures, it’s up to us. Thanks Sarah, and special thanks to an old school friend, Kevin, who took my suggestion and signed up. One more! Right, who’s next?

Strictly Cim Dancing: The Event!

An evening of Dirty Dancing, they said. We came, ate the canapes, drank the cava and headed off down winding corridors, to hit the dance-floor, some in their fetching close-fitting dresses and high heels. The ladies were pretty smartly attired too. Dancing there was, but was it dirty? Not a yellow card all evening.

And what fun it was! 30 or so of us in thrall to Katie and Laura, who taught us some basic mambo and merengue steps. We were so good at that (they told us) that we went straight into the choreographed routine based on those steps. Amazing what you can do in a couple of energetic hours.

Strictly photos

We can’t leave this without saying a huge “Thank you!” to those of you who came to the event and by doing so, contributed close to £700 to Transplants in Mind. The greatest thanks to Katie, Emma of First Dance Studios for putting on the event, donating their time, effort and money in making the evening the success it was.

Strictly Cim Dancing?

It seems like I’ve been away from the blog for ages – in fact it’s about 6 weeks. I still haven’t written up the remaining part of the Antarctica journals (especially the whisky tasting). But time is moving on and UK Transplant Week is soon, so it’s a question of just getting on with things.

So, what does the title of this post mean? Cim is organising an evening of Dirty Dancing with Woking First Dance Studios with proceeds to Transplants in Mind. It promises to be a fun and entertaining night. I’ll post brief details here, and please get in contact if you want to come.

An Evening of Dirty Dancing

20 June, First Dance Studios, Woking

The event, to be held at the First Dance Studios in Woking, was dubbed “Strictly Cim Dancing”, by Colin Day of Transplants in Mind, but is actually an evening of Dirty Dancing and Latin Ballroom. Of course, Cim will be taking part, but there is much more on offer. The leaders of First Dance, Katie Brewer and Emma Harris will be getting things going with a Latin Ballroom Lesson, which will be followed by a “Dirty Dancing”-style class.

There will be arrival drinks and canapés, and with everybody up-to-speed after the top-class lessons, there will be dancing until late, with drinks for those who are not feeling quite so nimble on the dance floor.

Tickets for the Evening of Dirty Dancing cost £20, payable in advance, available from:
First Dance Studios, 01483 750 075.