Editor’s note: Bill Klahn, 59, is a liver cancer survivor who received a transplant in June 2005. He is a Masters state champion, Iowa Senior Olympics state champion and record holder, and a Transplant Games national and world champion. He lives in Cedar Rapids and is a personal trainer, private swim coach, fitness coach and lifeguard at the Cedar Rapids HGN YMCA and teaches swim lessons at North Dodge Athletic Club in Iowa City.
By Bill Klahn, community contributor
DURBAN, South Africa — The World Transplant Games, with athletes from more than 50 countries, are more than an athletic competition.
They are a celebration of life.
A competition among transplant recipients, the games are dedicated to our donors. We give thanks to those who, without their generosity, we would not be alive, let alone be able to compete.
It is our way of showing the world that organ donation not only saves lives, but helps recipients thrive as active and healthy children and adults.
Imagine more than 800 athletes, along with donor families, families and friends sharing one common bond. Language and cultural differences aside, we all shared one common experience that brought us together. We all received a life saving organ transplant.
Communication was not difficult.
These Olympic-style games include track and field, bicycling, swimming, volleyball, bowling, tennis, badminton and many more. Team USA finished second in the total medal tally, behind the United Kingdom/Northern Ireland and just ahead of the home team of South Africa and Argentina.
The joke between the Team USA participants was “it takes two countries to beat the USA.”
The Games are attended by living donors and donor families. Families who have lost a loved one travel halfway across the world to see their recipient. One, a heart transplant recipient, decided to take up swimming because his donor was a standout high school swimmer. Several family members made the trip to South Africa to cheer him on as he swam with heart and style. New to swimming, and I know from experience, extremely nervous because his donor family was watching, he competed like a champion.
Team USA Swimming, with only 13 swimmers, placed second in the medal count. Our woman’s relays surpassed expectations, garnering two bronze medals.
Our total medal count in swimming was 17 gold, nine silver and seven bronze. Everyone swam their best and, win or lose, we were all champions. We had all received the gift of life.
The age groups are in 10-year increments and — one month before my 60th birthday — I was concerned about swimming against 50-year-olds. I took gold in the 200-meter freestyle, and 50 and 100 breaststroke, bronze in the 200 meter individual medley and the 100 meter free.
I trained hard, lost weight, planned my events, but I owe everything to my donor. She gave me the gift of life.
Please be an organ donor.
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