Transplant Athletics

New York, NY
June 6, 2002

Up until two decades ago, it was impossible to imagine people with kidney or heart transplants running a 50-meter-dash or swimming the butterfly stroke across a 25-meter pool. Even today, it still seems like a miracle.

But in 1982, a group of brave and determined transplant athlete pioneers gathered in Texas for the first regional U.S. Transplant Games and began changing the way people thought about transplant patients. The two-day athletic competition for transplant recipients served to dramatically demonstrate the life-restoring success of transplantation. Though small in scope, the Texas Games paved the way for future events. The next regional U.S. Transplant Games were held in Minnesota in 1988, with 70 participants hailing primarily from the Midwest.

In 1990, the National Kidney Foundation took on the management and organization of the U.S. Transplant Games, along with the event's co-founder Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corporation, now Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. Held in Indianapolis that year, the national event drew a record 400 transplant athletes from all over the country.

In addition to the rehabilitative benefits of this athletic competition, the U.S. Transplant Games provided a unique opportunity for transplant recipients to gather and share experiences, kindle friendships and celebrate their "ultimate second chance" at life while paying tribute to those who make it all possible—–the donor families.

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) continues to organize this biennial Olympic-style event, which now includes 13 different sports competitions, educational symposia for transplant professionals and special programming for donor families. The Games have been held in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Columbus, growing significantly each time. Most recently, a record-breaking gathering of 6,000 people, 2,000 of which were transplant athletes from all 50 states and five foreign countries converged in Orlando for the 2000 U.S. Transplant Games.

The first-ever U.S. Winter Transplant Games, held in February 1995 in Aspen, Colorado, gave transplant athletes new challenges and helped to substantially promote the tremendous success of organ transplantation. The U.S. Winter Transplant Games have since been held in Mammoth Lakes, California and Salt Lake City. Participants competed in a variety of alpine and nordic skiing events.

In addition to planning national competitions, the National Kidney Foundation is also helping American transplant athletes make their mark on the international transplant athletics scene. The Foundation manages Team USA's delegation to the Summer and Winter World Transplant Games, where athletes compete against transplant recipients representing countries throughout the world. In August of 2001, NKF took a group of American athletes to compete in the World Games in Kobe, Japan.