What Winners Choose to Share: The 2011 World Transplant Games

By Lora Wilson

The 2011 World Transplant Games (WTG) in Göteborg, Sweden emphasized that just by participating every transplant athlete was a winner.  As proof, each athlete’s name was listed on the back of the official WTG shirt and engraved on a trophy presented to H.R.H. Crown Prince Daniel of Sweden. A kidney recipient himself, Prince Daniel fired the starter’s pistol to begin the first event of the Games, the mini-marathon.  He later presented our own Team USA women with a gold medal for their team performance in this event.

While the competition was fierce and spirited, the WTG are all about sharing.  For Team USA, it started with David Rozelle, who won the Gold medal in the 70+ group for the 5K mini-marathon.  Before receiving his medal, he shook hands with his competitors and gave each a Team USA T-shirt.

John Anderson shared a small American flag with all Team USA members prior to the opening ceremonies parade.  Many of these were given away en route to delighted onlookers.  An athlete from Team Greece, grateful for the gift of his transplant in New York City, sought Americans to wear his country’s pins.  Talented origami artists from Hong Kong made heart-shaped bookmarks and moving butterflies on the spot, and used these as trading currency to swap with other teams.

Several Team USA medal winners used their victories to share the spotlight on the donors who made their accomplishments possible.  At his request, Richard Lilly’s gold medal for singles bowling was presented to Bennie Lilly, his father and kidney donor, rather than to himself.  Mike Lane, who dyed his hair “Donate Life” green for the games, joined Rich to earn top honors for Team USA in doubles bowling.  At the medals ceremony, he draped Patrick Bowen’s gold #11 football jersey over the American flag in a moving tribute to the young man who saved his life.

At the various sports venues and especially at the final track and field competitions, participants were in a trading frenzy to share pins, hats and uniform pieces with new friends from all over the world.  During a break in the action, the crowd was so amazed with Team New Zealand’s Maori chant that they requested an encore performance.  When the WTG flag was passed from Sweden to South Africa, host for the 2013 games, Team South Africa broke out in their national anthem.

At the closing ceremonies Midsommar festival, our Swedish hosts shared one of their most joyous holidays with native costumes, songs, food and folk dancing to mark the summer solstice.  The world transplant community added Japanese kimonos, Scottish kilts and traditional Arabic dress and other native costumes to the lawn at the Trädgårdsföreningen, horticultural garden for this global celebration of light and life.

Sharing stories, customs, trinkets, hats and even the shirts off their backs with old friends and total strangers comes naturally to these winners whose lives have been transformed by donors who chose to share the gift of life.  “None of us can understand why we can get along so well, but our countries can’t,” said Jack Silverstein.
The Outstanding Athlete Awards are presented at the World Transplant Games to the competitors who are nominated by their team manager and selected by the Judiciary Committee based on number of medals won, strength of competition, achievements in multiple sports and sportsmanship.

A veteran of two previous WTGs in Bangkok and Australia, Team USA’s Tracy Copeland was the recipient of the Outstanding Female Athlete for the 2011 WTG.  Tracy received multiple gold medals for cycling, and gold and silver medals for running.  While she didn’t medal in swimming, Tracy’s performance in that sport pushed her into the top spot for the virtual triathlon.  Tracy is an amazing athlete, but it was her generosity that impressed the judges the most.  She gave away a gold medal that she earned to a donor family that she met along the parade route, exemplifying the true spirit of these games.

Tracy first heard about the Transplant Games from her donor Terry Snow’s mom.  Prior to her liver transplant in 1998, Tracy worked out to stay fit but had never been involved with competitive athletics.  In accepting the ultimate honor for her 2011 WTG achievements, Tracy shared the spotlight with all donors.  “We celebrate our lives because of your incredible gift.  You are the true heroes.”

2011 World Transplant Games at a Glance

  • Nearly 1500 Transplant Athletes
  • 54 Countries
  • 13 different sporting areas from Badminton to Volleyball

Team USA came in 2nd (after Team United Kingdom) with 47 gold, 38 silver, and 27 bronze medals. 
Check out the winners’ board at www.wtg2011.com for times, scores and rankings for each event.

Lora Ward Wilson was proud to be one of 10 living donors representing Team USA at the World Transplant Games in Sweden.  She traded parts of her uniform to bring home a Team South Africa shirt and a Team Thailand hat.