Training, training, training. In preparation for the 8th Winter World Transplant Games in Anzere I started training five weeks before. Squats, sit ups, up and down stairs, sitting against the wall - all to strengthen the muscles for the ski-ing to come. Little did I know that a game of bowls and sweeping out the garage would have been more useful!
23 transplant recipients (including 10 children) representing the UK, returned recently from Switzerland where we have been competing in this year's Games. We were joined by competitors from 28 countries. Team UK won 8 Gold, 4 Silver and 5 bronze medals which is an amazing achievement competing against very experienced European skiers.
In celebrating the upcoming 18th anniversary of my Kidney transplant, I was hoping to emulate my prior successes at the Games. Since I began ski-ing at the age of 14 on a school trip I have always enjoyed the sport - speed and a hasty stop more my style than grace and finesse. Dialysis didn't put a stop to my passion - taking a portable dialysis machine and umpteen boxes of equipment to the slopes of Chatel, France in 1994. Only a week after returning, I got the call that I had a match and a successful transplant followed.
A battle scarred Mark!
Anzere was my fifth Games and I entered all the downhill events - Ski-ing Super Giant Slalom, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Parallel Slalom and Snowboard Giant Slalom along with the more sedate Team Curling. A parade through the village to its square by the athletes started the opening ceremony - many meeting friends not seen since the previous Games 2 years ago. All were itching to hit the slopes.
A climb in temperature unfortunately saw little fresh snow and icy course that was steeper than expected for the conditions. This didn't put the competitors off, though slowed the times down. After managing to survive the course on skis, I managed about 10 metres on the snowboard - no chance of matching the Gold achieved last time! A bus ride after lunch took the team into Sion to the Ice rink for the curling. The United Kingdom and France entered two teams each, with Germany and Switzerland making up the league table. My team, UK1, beat Germany to take on France the next day. This is where the sweeping training would have come in handy as I slipped on the ice, fell on the broom and ended up with a split lip and a couple of nice bruises. Undeterred, I got back on the ice for the final game against UK2, fighting for the Gold medal! After a tense first 3 ends, I threw the winning stone - knocking their winning stone from the centre spot and taking four points - the game was won! France pipped UK2 for silver place, but UK taking a gold and bronze in an unfamiliar game was the talk of the village.
The final day saw the closing ceremony and BBQ lunch preceded by
racing for the Nicholas Cup. A seven year-old boy from
California, Nicholas Green, was killed by highway robbers in 1994
while vacationing in Italy with his family. His parents agreed to
donate his organs and corneas, which went to seven Italians waiting
for transplants. Reg and Maggie Green spoke openly to the media,
with no bitterness, about their loss and decision. The world took
the story - and the Greens - to its heart. Organ donations in Italy
have quadrupled since Nicholas was killed so that thousands of
people alive who would have died.
In memory of Nicholas, the Nicholas Cup camp for transplant recipients new to the slopes takes place during the Winter World Transplant Games, culminating in a slalom race at the end of the week for all camp participants to win the "Nicholas Cup" the prize this year presented by Nicholas' father.
The Games provide a wonderful opportunity for transplanted athletes to enjoy their new lease of life and to demonstrate the benefits of organ donation, offering transplanted athletes an opportunity to live life to the full and give thanks to organ donor families on a world stage. Hopefully the publicity surrounding this international event will encourage others to sign on to the Organ Donor Register, but most importantly, discuss their final wishes with their families now.
Please help us to raise public awareness about transplantation and the Organ Donor register. For further information on how to sign the Organ Donor Register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23 or text SAVE to 84118. Sign up today and give the gift of life.