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I am a 50-year-old living kidney donor, and I am learning how to run in order to compete in the first-ever living donor competitions at the U.S. Transplant Games this summer in Madison, Wisconsin. In training for the games, I have discovered surprising similarities between living donation and running.
With both endeavors, my mind and concept of myself presented greater obstacles than my physical condition. I always thought of myself as having greater intellectual capacity than physical stamina, and therefore only reluctantly attempted athletic activities. Living donation taught me that my body is much stronger than I had realized. Barring medical contraindications, most of us have the capacity to do more with our bodies than we ever imagine and can do so if we walk around the fear of failure that blocks the starting line for the journey.
Start from where you are, here and now. The illusion of perfection kept me from striving for activities that appeared to be beyond my reach. I once thought that I needed to be a perfect physical specimen (or at least 15 pounds lighter) to be a living kidney donor or to compete in a race, but really I just needed to take the first step, and then the step after that, and so on. While I was waiting for the exact right time to start, I always found really good excuses to keep me from taking that critical first step. However, once I took that step, I found that I could build on that success to move forward.
Patience is essential to the process. With living donation, many tests over an extended period of time are needed to determine the suitability of a potential donor. With running, the process of gradually building up strength, endurance and speed should not be rushed. Hurrying either process could lead to harm. Early in my training, I found myself trying to do too much, too soon which is probably the number one mistake of new runners. This resulted in painful injuries and lost training days while I recovered from my overly ambitious workouts.
Step out of your comfort zone. Pre operative tests and blood work are no one's idea of fun, but these were necessary inconveniences on my journey to living donation. Consenting to these violations of my personal comfort zone prepared me for the larger inconvenience of the surgery and recovery. After a lifetime of good health without major surgery, I was humbled to be a patient with IVs and a catheter. Likewise, it's been a chore to get out of my warm bed as early as 5 am to run before work or to push myself to go a little bit further, or a tiny bit faster.
See the potential within. There's a legend that a child watched Michelangelo turn a block of marble rejected by another sculptor into his masterpiece, David. Upon seeing the completed statue he asked the artist, “How did you know he was in there?” Michelangelo answered, “I just took away everything that wasn't David.” Have the vision to look inside yourself to discover the living donor or the athlete who may be there, and challenge yourself to chisel away all that keeps you from displaying that inner beauty for all to see.
Do it for a higher purpose. If someone you loved were suffering, you would do everything in your power to help them, even if it would cause you pain. At the time I decided to donate my kidney, I knew at least three people who were waiting for the gift of life. I gave as a non-directed donor to help all of them to get one step closer to a transplant by getting my most compatible recipient off of the list. The 80,000 plus individuals who currently wait inspire me to run through discomfort and inconveniences to demonstrate that living donors are ordinary people who continue to enjoy good health post-donation.
The point of the living donor competitions in the Transplant Games is to inspire others to follow in my footsteps by considering living donation. I don't enjoy running, yet I hope that one day I will. I have learned that doing something you don't love is so much easier when you do it with love.
Lora Wilson is a non-directed kidney donor. Follow Lora as she blogs about her experiences with the U.S. Transplant Games.