These athletes are already winners

Morgann Tucker of Herndon won two gold medals during her first Transplant Games, in 2008. She had a kidney transplant.
Morgann Tucker of Herndon won two gold medals during her first Transplant Games, in 2008. She had a kidney transplant. (National Kidney Foundation)
By Fred Bowen
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Athletes from all over the United States will gather next week in Wisconsin to compete for medals in a dozen sports, including track and field, swimming, basketball, tennis and golf.

These games, however, are a bit different from the Olympics or other championships. All of the athletes in the Wisconsin games have received lifesaving organ transplants. That means they have been given a kidney, bone marrow, pancreas, liver or even a heart from a donor.

These are the National Kidney Foundation's U.S. Transplant Games. The games have been held every two years since 1990 to celebrate the achievements of transplant patients and to make people more aware of the need for organ donation. According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ to be donated, and 18 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant.

Although most of the athletes are adults, kids also compete. More than 150 athletes age 17 and younger, including eight athletes from the Washington area, will be at the Wisconsin games.

It will be the second Transplant Games for Morgann Tucker of Herndon, who received a kidney from her father in March 2005 when she was 7 years old. Morgann, who won two gold medals in 2008, will swim and run track. But Morgann says the best part of the games is "meeting new kids who have had transplants."

During the rest of the year, Morgann and many of the kids who compete in the Transplant Games also play on school and recreational teams and compete against kids who have not received transplanted organs.

That's no surprise. Some athletes have done amazing things after receiving an organ transplant. Sean Elliott of the San Antonio Spurs and Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown University and the Miami Heat competed in the NBA after receiving kidney transplants. Mourning received his kidney in 2003 and was a member of the 2006 Miami Heat championship team.

Most recently, a professional golfer, Erik Compton, competed in this year's U.S. Open after his second heart transplant. Compton, who is 30 years old, received his first transplant when he was 12 and his second in 2008.

Sometimes in sports, everyone makes a big deal out of the most famous and talented athletes. Look at how much fanfare surrounded basketball star LeBron James's recent signing with a new team.

The National Kidney Foundation's U.S. Transplant Games are a good reminder that the bravest and most admirable athletes often are regular people who have overcome hard times just to stand at the starting blocks or cross the finish line. They are the athletes who remind us that competing is sometimes the greatest victory of all.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is the author of 15 books, including his latest baseball book, "Throwing Heat."

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