Liver recipient and Team Maryland member Hilary Hoagwood wrote this reflection on her experience at this year’s 2010 NKF U.S. Transplant Games. We thought it would be nice to share with everyone and Hilary was gracious enough to let us share her thoughts on our blog. Enjoy!
I have recently returned home from one of the most incredible vacations ever. I am proud of myself, and immensely grateful to so many others, for pulling this off. I had a terrific time and got to see and experience so many wonderful things. The trip was a combination family reunion, birthday party for my mother, and my competition in the US Transplant Games. In case you’re not familiar with the Games already, they take place every two years and are an opportunity for recipients of life-saving organ transplants to come together and participate in athletic competitions. Donor families, living donors, transplant recipients, transplant professionals, and recipient families and friends all gather to support one another and to celebrate the success of transplantation. It is a magical experience. While it is a competition (and believe me, there are some competitive and skilled athletes who take part), it is much more a celebration of life.
At the closing ceremony of the 2008 US Transplant Games, the announcement was made of when and where the 2010 Games would be held. As soon as I heard the announcement, I got the idea for making it a family reunion. The Games were to be held in Madison, Wisconsin, which is very close to my mother’s hometown and to where some of our family members live. The Games were also to begin two days after my mom’s birthday. How could I not get family together and have a birthday celebration for my mom? And oh yeah, that means I would have a ton of family to cheer me on during my competitions! So phone calls were made, and plans for the reunion were set into motion.
Initially, the plan was for me and my mother to spend time with my mother’s aunt Rhoda and cousin Reid. Then, I was overjoyed to learn that family members from Georgia and Missouri would also be joining us at the Games! I was thrilled my family members from different parts of the country were all going to be at the Games to support me – including some I had not seen in a long time and many who had never been to the Games.
So we all loaded up cars, hopped on airplanes, and got ourselves to Wisconsin! I had 18 supporters surrounding me as I entered the Transplant Games world. They all got to experience that magic that is the Games. Part of that magic is being part of such a supportive community. The transplant community is like a giant family. So not only did I have my own family there, I had recipients and donors and friends from all over America there hugging me and cheering me on. We all spent the whole time cheering one another on and congratulating one another throughout every event, opening ceremony, the speeches, performances, guest appearances by Chris Klug and Larry Hagman, the pleas for people to spread the word about organ donation and the more than 108,000 people on the waiting list. The parade of living donors and donor families to whom we recipients literally owe our lives.
Then came the competitions. My 18 supporters all wore their red Team Maryland shirts and yelled their throats raw as I swam with all I had and earned a bronze medal in the 100 IM (Hardest. Event. Ever.) and in the breaststroke. I beat my personal best times in every race I entered (IM, breast, free, and 50 fly). We cheered on my friends from across the country. We moved to the tennis venue, where I took bronze in my age group. I also scoped out the 30-39 age group, which I will be a part of next time. Team Maryland, for the first time EVER, was able to have a volleyball team, so we gave it all we had on the volleyball court as well.
I was also honored to be asked to be a facilitator of the Transplant Games Coffee House. This was a forum where donor families, recipients living donors, and anyone else touched by transplantation could get up and share their story. I heard so many lovely stories and tributes. Tears were shed. As therapeutic as it is for a person to get up and share their story, or a tribute to a loved one, it is also amazingly therapeutic for those who get to hear it. It is amazing for me, as a recipient to get to hear and try to understand the donor family perspective. I have also been told that it is wonderful for donor families to get to hear from recipients and get to see what their gift can do for someone else.
Over the course of this trip, we had our silly moments, for sure, but we also had many heartfelt conversations. We remembered those who are no longer living and the impact their lives have had on us. We thanked each other for the love and support that is so abundant in our family. We congratulated one another on personal achievements, in athletics and in life. Adults and children alike asked questions and got to think about transplantation and organ donation and what it all means. We were reminded how short, and how valuable, life is, and how not to take a minute of it for granted.
I have felt so many emotions, leading up to this trip, during it, and in the days since being home. I am still processing it all and will be for some time. I have learned a lot. I think we can all learn a lot from everyone we met. Maybe someone has overcome a physical illness, a surgery, the death of a loved one, or some other struggle. Maybe someone can show us how to live healthier and make healthy choices. Maybe they can teach us how to do a sport better, how to sing or dance. Maybe they can accept something in us we never thought could be accepted. Maybe they can make us laugh. I am so grateful for everything I have learned and experienced. I am proud of myself for making this trip happen, and I’m also very proud of my family for so much. The largeness/significance of how the Games brought people together from all over the country and brought my family back together while introducing the idea of organ donation to many of them was incredible.
I always take one Games at a time. I deliberately did not commit myself to the 2011, or 2012, or future, Games until after Madison was behind me. However, while in Madison, I was informed by several people, some family and some friends, some teammates, and some coaches, that I AM in fact returning in 2012. It is not yet known where the 2012 US Games will be, but wherever they are I will be there!! I hope I can provide half the encouragement to others that I felt on so many levels during this trip.
– Hilary Hoagwood