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By Hilary Hoagwood
June 2011 will bring another World Transplant Games, this one taking place in Goteborg, Sweden. This will be my sixth Transplant Games overall, and I will be competing in singles tennis and three swimming races. Ever since my first Games, the 2006 US Games in Louisville, I have made the Games and training for them a priority in my life. Training for the Transplant Games is integral to my staying healthy. Not only does the regular exercise have numerous benefits for my body, but the mental focus on the competition and striving for my goals gives me a positive focus in my life and something to work towards every single day. Here are some tips I use in my own training that I hope will be helpful to other aspiring athletes.
Team USA and the Transplant Games are open to anyone who has received a transplant and wishes to participate. There is no athletic prerequisite. As long as your physician approves your participation in your chosen events, you may participate. I was never on a swim team or part of any athletic competition when I decided to begin training for swimming at the Games. I was motivated by a friend of mine who received a liver transplant and, as a kid in PE class, could not run a mile. She challenged herself, began running, and ultimately completed a marathon. She taught me that, no matter where a person starts, it is possible to go as far as you want to go if you set your mind to it and keep working towards it.
The first step in any endeavor is to set your goal. What is it you are trying to accomplish? Do you want to try out a new sport? Beat a personal best time? Complete a longer race than you have done in the past? Defeat a rival? Try to be specific in your chosen goal. To use the example of swimming, a goal may be to “complete the 400 meter freestyle”. Or it may be to “complete the 100 meter breaststroke in under __ seconds”. Dare to aim high. Try to win. It may be scary to set a high goal, but just think of how great it will feel when you attain it!
Once you have set your goal, stick to it. You will have ups and down in training, but do not give up on the goal. If a workout does not go as hoped (and this happens to me often), I say “okay, I will try again tomorrow.”
Eliminate the word "can't" from your vocabulary. I adopted this policy in my own life, and I do feel very different if I verbalize, “I am having trouble with this stroke” as opposed to “I can’t do this”.
Okay, so we have set our long term goal. We believe we will get there. However, there are a lot of steps along the way. Break down the goal into incremental goals. You can do this monthly, or weekly, or just as a list of steps on the road to your goal. Each time you attain a goal or make an improvement, pat yourself on the back. Be proud. Whether it’s going a little farther, a little faster, or just getting yourself to the gym and doing something, every step you take is a step closer to the goal.
Whatever your sport of choice, other activities will complement your training. Stamina/endurance and strength are integral parts of any sport. So get creative. Try a yoga class. Try a dance class. Try a new cardio machine at your gym. If something sounds fun, give it a try. You do not have to do the same activity day after day. It’s also important in any workout program to incorporate recovery, such as stretching.
If I had a dime for every “one size fits all” piece of diet advice I have heard, I would have full financing for the trip to Sweden! The bottom line is that you have to find what works for you. I find that I have to eat more than I initially thought in order to have the energy to complete my workouts. Some people need to eat more carbs, some people need more protein. I would encourage everyone to experiment with different foods until you find the diet that fits best with your workouts. Also remember to stay hydrated.
As much as we all want to win races, and execute perfect race starts or tennis serves or golf swings, we are all competing in the World Transplant Games because we have received a transplant, and, because of that, we are alive. We are celebrating life and honoring our donors. Every goal we set and every accomplishment we have is a testament to the success of transplantation and the gifts we have all received. From time to time, we all just need to step back and be grateful.