(This is Part 2 of the TGA recap. Want to read Part 1? Click here: Transplant Games 2018 Recap – Part 1.)
Derek woke up extra early to get in the zone for his 5k race. The start of the race was a little over a mile away which gave him the perfect warm-up. (He had already scoped out the route the day before and was happy he could run there instead of having to take a shuttle.) I took some photos of him before since I would be heading to the pool for my races just as his race was going off.
Knowing I would be alone, I packed lightly (water bottle and cash) and jogged out the door to get to the race. I arrived and saw a sea of green t-shirts that were handed out when we picked up our bib numbers. There were a few fast-looking people around and I wanted to scope out the competition.
As I began my wandering, I was stopped by a donor family who asked to take a picture of the back of my shirt. Their son, Tyler, was a rower and runner. I would learn later that he wore bow ties and studied for a Summer at Brown and passed away in 2017 at the age of 16 from suicide. This is what makes the Transplant Games humbling and also amazing. It’s a time when living donors, donor families, and transplant recipients get together and share love. For me, it’s a time to ‘walk the walk’ and remind families that their decision has made a difference in my life. After the race, they shared a poem with me that Tyler wrote during running camp, which I found very appropriate given my own feelings on running. An excerpt reads:
I am a runner.
I eat my weight in pasta.
And drink enough water to drown a fish.
All to prepare for a half a minute less of running.
Because I hate running.
But on the run,
When I feel as if I must give up,
The run pushes me forward saying ‘you’re better than this.’
Because I did not choose to be a runner.
A runner is who I am.
As for the race, it now feels like it was unimportant. I met a few fellow front runners on the starting line. None of them wanted to be front and center, so I took the lead. I was fully prepared to be bowled over once the starting gun went off by those behind me. My plan was to run a 19:59.9 5k, but others looked faster. My competition consisted of:
- A high school graduate who was planning on running an 18 minute 5k, “but if it gets competitive, I’ll let them go.” I tried convincing him that he should drop back and pace me, but I don’t think he took me seriously (bib 798).
- A kidney recipient, Justin, who ran a 20:25 for the US Transplant Games record for my age group and was planning on running sub-20. He aged up into the 40+ age group so he wasn’t in my division anymore and encouraged me to break his record (blue shirt on the right of the picture – bib 70).
- A liver recipient who ‘used to be fast’ and then went on his 2 year Mormon mission and claimed he wasn’t fast anymore (bib 24).
- Another recipient who suggested that at the finish we should all show our scars to prove that no one was cheating. I think they were half-joking (bib 66).
After some words of encouragement and applause for donor families, the gun went off.
I was passed by a fair number of people and settled into a reasonable pace. Justin (plan sub-20) was in front of me, so either I went out too slow, or he went out too fast (hint: everyone always goes out too fast). I slowly reeled him back in and through the first kilometer I was on pace. I secretly and silently encouraged him to stick with me as I wanted a running partner, but he started trailing after 2km. I stopped looking at my pace for the rest of the race and focused on consistent, strong running. At the 4km mark, I realized the race course was going to be a little short (my watch told me I ran a 4.7k). I tried pushing myself towards a strong kick but wasn’t able to reel anyone in. I was proud of my finish of 18:51, which was a 20:00 5k pace. I’ll take it!
After the race, I wandered around waiting for the awards ceremony and another runner in my age group came up to me (based on my shirt) and asked “How did you get so fast?” He ran track and received a liver transplant 1.5 years ago and finished in second place. Much like I was, he is impatient with his progress and thinks he should feel 100% better right away. His resting heart rate was high after surgery (100+BPM, just like me) and is still not ‘normal’. I was able to relate and share my experiences of jogging my first 30 minute 5k and then slowly getting faster as my heart rate became normal. I shared with him the words Chris Klug gave to me before I hiked Aspen mountain just 7 months post transplant: “You’re still recovering!”
Without a camera, I couldn’t get someone to take a picture of my first place age group finish, but Logan had secret friends taking pictures of me!
As I was waiting for Derek to arrive, one of my friends from Oregon showed me a photo her team manager sent her of Derek on the podium at the 5k! I was sad to miss his moment of glory, but happy to see him in his rightful position on the top step.
While Derek was winning the 5k I was making my way to pool. When I got there my pals from the Pacific Northwest Team were huddled on a bench near lane 8 and we all settled in for a long day of waiting on the pool deck with a few races sprinkled in between. I swam in high school but most of our meets were duels, which were long, but nowhere near as long as an all day swim meet with every event having multiple heats for men, women, and kids.
My first race, the 100yd Freestyle was just before noon and when I made my way to the blocks I realized everyone but me had scratched the heat. Swimming a race alone is a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to have the pool to yourself, but you don’t have the benefit of someone being your rabbit. The next heat was much faster than me, but I managed to get a bronze medal in the event.
Derek arrived soon after and was able to watch as I got fourth place in the 50yd Freestyle and then joined us on the pool deck to cheer on the other swimmers and eat snacks. My last event of the day was the 50yd Breaststroke and the event I was most concerned about. I never swam breaststroke in high school, only freestyle and butterfly. My butterfly was never very good and I’ve really been enjoying breaststroke as my alternative to freestyle during my work outs so I thought I would try it in competition again. (Last Transplant Games I got silver, because there were only two of us competing.)
As I made my way to the starting block I felt sick. Why did I sign up for this? What was I thinking? I climbed up onto the blocks and everything went silent and my nerves fell away. In everything I do, it’s the anticipation that tries to beat me, not the thing itself. I heard the starter say: “Swimmers… take your marks,” and I grabbed the front of the block and was suddenly calm, relaxed, focused. I didn’t even see Derek at the end of the pool with the GoPro dunked underwater to catch me in action. When the starter tone went off I dove, arms straight ahead, squeezing my ears, head down so my goggles wouldn’t fly off. Underwater, I dolphin kicked once and then brought my hands to my side with a keyhole shape, sweeping the water away, propelling me forward. I watched a bunch of videos leading up to the race to try and get my start to be super efficient. I was supposed to recover my arms after the keyhole, timing it so I didn’t lose momentum as I did my first frog leg kick, getting me ready for the first pull.
I did it! I felt like I was cruising, gliding down the lane. I could see people on either side of me but I was also mentally trying to prepare for the turn. I needed to get enough oxygen so I wouldn’t come up short, gasping for air.
The turn was ok,
but I could see people in front of me when I broke the surface and I tried to increase my tempo. As the wall approached I jammed my hands into the pad hoping I’d out touched someone.
The timing computer crashed sometime after my race and I wouldn’t find out until later that I’d out touched the woman who beat me in every other race I competed in–in the pool and on the track–by 4/100ths of a second to get silver. Donna Pierce, you are an amazing super human rabbit! Mari, the woman who won the race is a triathlete who received a cornea transplant after her dog accidentally scratched her eye. I raced against a lot of triathletes this year, and my goodness they are fast!
After a shower we ate a delicious pizza dinner and then watched some 3 on 3 basketball competition. Melvin, our intrepid supporter met the two mascots of the Transplant Games, Blaze and Spark. Tune in tomorrow for recap number three!