By AAKP BOD and Ambassador, Dave White
Dave White at the Transplant Games of America
I heard a supporter yell “Go Maryland!” while I was chugging my way around the last turn into the home stretch. I saw three runners ahead of me and said to myself “oh well, no medal today.” I was exhausted and my legs begged me to stop running, but I kept pushing for Team Maryland, my friends at AAKP and many other organizations, my family, and most importantly for my father who was on Flushing High School’s track team back in the day (he was a city champion high jumper and also ran the quarter mile race). I finished the Transplant Games of America men’s 400 meter race (age 50-59 recipient division) in 1 minute and 26.78 seconds. I was a little disappointed, but training for the event and running the race made me feel like an athlete again!
The 2018 Transplant Games of America were held in Salt Lake City, Utah from August 2-7, 2018 with a record 5,511 registered participants and an estimated total of over 8,000 people attending. Many of the competitions and special events were held in the Salt Palace Convention Center, and some events took place in other locations around the city (the track and field competition was held at West High School about a mile from the Salt Palace). This was my first time attending the Transplant Games, and my trip was sponsored by the American Society of Transplantation (AST) and Power2Save. My 400 meter race was the third leg of my own Transplant Games “virtual biathlon”: a “Financial Concerns” video shoot for Power2Save at 8 a.m., an educational session on the same topic an hour later, my race around 11:30 a.m. that morning, and a second educational session at 1 p.m. that afternoon. (AST and Power2Save work together to raise awareness and educate the public about transplants, organ and tissue donation, and related topics that are important to the transplant community.)
Many other AAKP Ambassadors attended the Games as members of their respective teams, and “Team AAKP” had a fantastic showing! Following is a list of Team AAKP’s members, the events they participated in, and the medals they won:
Brandy Webster (Team Idaho/Utah)
Christie Ramos (Team Hawaii)
singles bowling (bronze)
Paul Rakoski (Team New England)
Golf (silver – individual, gold – pairs)
Lisa Pappas (Team New England)
Patrick Gee (Team Virginia)
Bowling (gold – doubles)
Nichole Jefferson (Team Iowa)
Laura Ellsworth (Team Northwest)
Swimming: 50 meter breaststroke (silver), 200 meter IM relay (gold), 500 meter freestyle (bronze)
Softball throw (silver)
Victoria Schmalstig (Team Ohio, Columbus area Manager)
Bowling: mixed doubles (gold)
Monica Fox (Team Illinois)
Ballroom Dance (bronze – novice division)
Dave White (Team Maryland)
Men’s 400 meter race
Carolyn DeMarco (Team Northwest)
10 medals in Swimming (all distances) 5 gold, 4 silver, 1 bronze
AAKP Ambassadors that attended the Transplant Games but did not participate in the athletic events: Dale Rogers (ID) Gloria Peninger (ID)
Ambassador and in-center dialysis patient Dax Francis (UT) was in attendance at the Transplant Games, with his company Ivye who was a sponsor.
AAKP Ambassador and Veterans Transplantation Association (VTA) founder and Chief Executive Officer Daronta Briggs won gold medals in previous Transplant Games, but he chose not to compete this year in order to focus all his energy on a personal mission: serving transplanted veterans and their families. He set up and staffed a vendor’s table along with other VTA members and also led a presentation and workshop to familiarize those interested with his organization’s offerings and activities. Thanks to Daronta’s leadership, the VTA serviced over 100 veterans and family members at the Games and received numerous requests from local and national organization leaders to form partnerships and create local VTA chapters. Daronta also attended the Veterans Family Tribute, where all veterans and their families were recognized with a Transplant Games of America challenge coin. Reflecting on his Transplant Games experience, Daronta said that “seeing and hearing the positive responses about our nonprofit is my ‘Gold Medal.’”
The “TGA Village” in the Salt Palace included dozens of basketball, volleyball and pickleball (a sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis) courts, vendor tables and booths, a food court where I tried my first Vegas burrito (I approve!), a stage for special events and presentations, and various workshops and pop-up events. One of the more creative offerings was a makeshift wall, Wall of Hope, where anyone could write a personal note or message. AAKP Ambassador Brandy Webster said “that was the most impactful sight I’ve seen all week.”
On the last day of the Games, 540 transplant recipients gathered in the Salt Palace to set a new Guinness World Record, smashing the previous record of 438 set in May in Ankara, Turkey (almost 1,000 recipients registered for the event, but many had to leave beforehand). “It was so wonderful to be counted in that number,” AAKP Ambassador Monica Fox shared, adding “The love, support and camaraderie was truly amazing…I believe that this is an experience that every transplant recipient should have at least once in their life.” I think that Monica’s remarks capture the true meaning and spirit of the Games for all attendees, transplant recipients included.
My stay in Salt Lake City was shorter than most, so I was not able to attend other special events like the opening and closing ceremonies, the donor tribute, and the Quarter Century Club Dinner and Dance (Quarter Century Club members have at least a 25-year history of transplantation, either as a recipient or as a donor or donor family member). I may, however, have unintentionally set a couple of records on my way home: I missed my connecting flight and had the unique pleasure of experiencing a nine-hour overnight stay at O’Hare International Airport before catching a 6 a.m. flight home. I walked about 15,000 steps while waiting for my flight and my total travel time was about 18 hours; nevertheless, not even a nine-hour layover could dampen my enthusiasm and appreciation for what I had been a part of in Salt Lake City. (FYI – there isn’t much to do in O’Hare at 3am other than work or sleep, but on the bright side finding outlets for charging phones and what-not at that hour is a piece of cake!)
The Transplant Games of America is so much more than a sporting event – it is a touchstone for the transplant community. While every participant’s experience is unique, most people leave feeling the same way that Daronta, Brandy, Monica and all of Team AAKP did: amazed, inspired and grateful. The next Games are going to be held in 2020 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. I plan to run the 400 meter race again, and I think that I’ll compete in the 100 meter dash, too. And now that I know what “Pickleball” is I may try that as well!
AAKP Ambassador Daronta Briggs, founder and Chief Executive Officer Veterans Transplantation Association