The athletes, who range in age from 7 to 17, represent A.I. as part of The Gift of Life Donor Program‘s Team Philadelphia. Their goal is to raise awareness of the urgency for more organ and tissue donors.
The group includes Gabriel Clark, who received a kidney transplant from his father when he was two years old. Now 16, he’s competed in the games several times, and embraces the role of mentor to the younger athletes while enjoying the opportunity to connect with peers who share his experience.
“You have an understanding with the other recipients as well and you’re like ‘Hey, we went through this,'” said Clark. “Usually when people see us they’re like ‘Wow, you take that many medicines?’ or ‘Wow, you have to do all of that?’ but then to us it’s like ‘Well, it’s sort of a normal thing now.'”
Gabriel’s mother, Veonous Jacques, is happy that the games help raise awareness of the constant need of the gift of life that is organ and tissue donation.
“Once you give life with a donation that person’s life continues through the recipient,” Jacques said. “And so the games are just a celebration of life because you’re not limited by the transplant. It actually increases what you’re able to do.”
Shylah Haldeman, heart transplant coordinator at Nemours, says the athletes’ interaction with donor families, living donors and other transplant recipients helps them understand they can live a normal life after a transplant.
“We see these kids before their transplant, we watch them right after transplant through the hospital, struggle and try to get stronger,” Haldeman said. “Being able to watch them out there running and playing, its just wonderful to really be able to see how great their lives are and everything that they can do.”
Over 2,000 other athletes from around the country will compete in over 15 events ranging from track & field and bowling to Texas Hold-em poker and ballroom dancing.
Team Philadelphia is the largest traveling team at the games with a roster of 63 athletes, 16 donor families and 8 living donors from AI and others from from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia.
Gift of Life community relations writer Allison Steever says by having living donors and donor families accompany the team shows that transplantation works and that the generosity of the donation is recognized.
“It’s absolutely healing to bring together donor families and transplant recipients to see the full process and to have people come together it’s completely healing,” Steever said. “Transplant Games is celebrating health, it’s celebrating the donors and its encouraging other people to register as donors because there are so many people waiting still.”