Nineteen American athletes participated in the Australian Games.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
POLAND -- Nick Carson won his battle with kidney disease April 30, 2003, the day he received a life-saving transplant. Now he's winning back his health, and has a pile of gold medals to prove it.
Carson, 53, of Poland, won six gold and three bronze medals at the Olympic-style Australian Transplant Games Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 in Adelaide, Australia. Some 350 athletes, all transplant recipients from around the world, participated.
"I'm in better shape than I thought I was. All my training paid off," Carson said, reflecting on the number of events in which he excelled. Carson won gold medals in six swimming events -- 50-meter butterfly, backstroke, freestyle and breast stroke, 100-meter backstroke, and 200-meter freestyle relay.
He won bronze medals in the 1-kilometer, 5 kilometer and 20 kilometer cycling events, competing against more than 40 other cyclists.
Earlier this year, he won a gold medal in the 50-meter butterfly swimming competition at the U.S. Transplant Games and is planning to compete in the World Transplant Games next July in London, Ontario. Carson said he may also compete in the 2007 World Transplant Games in Bangkok.
Although winning is great, Carson said his real reason for competing is to draw attention to the need for organ donors and to demonstrate the quality life organ recipients can lead after transplant.
"Seventeen people will die today needing a transplant," Carson said. "Fourteen will be added to the list today of those in need of a transplant." In the United States alone, 86,000 people are waiting, he added.
Nineteen American athletes participated in the Australian Transplant Games -- the competitions are open to any transplant recipient whether or not they reside in the country where competitions are held, Carson explained. There also are no age restrictions. Any transplant recipient, including children and the elderly, are encouraged to compete.
Because the immunosuppressive medications that transplant recipients must take "tear your body down, an important part of maintaining good health is building your body back up," Carson said. Training for the games helps transplant recipients do that.
The games are also a great opportunity for transplant recipients to share their stories and meet other people, other transplant recipients as well as donor families and the general public, Carson said. "I made a lot of friends."
Carol Fitzsimons, of the Mount Vernon, Ohio, area, also won several medals at the Australian Transplant Games.
She won gold in the 400-meter, 100-meter and 50-meter swimming freestyle, and the 50-meter backstroke, medley relay and individual medley; silver in volleyball; and bronze in two track and field events.
"It was the first time I ever played volleyball, Fitzsimons said, "but I said, 'I'm here, I'm just going to do it and have fun and see what I can do.' " Winning was not as important as educating people about the need for donors, Fitzsimons, a preschool teacher, stressed.
She was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1981 at 17 and received her transplant nine years later.
Before her transplant, Fitzsimons said she was too sick to even walk her dog. After her transplant, she swam to rebuild her strength.
She first competed in the U.S. Transplant Games in 2002 and in the World Transplant Games in France in 2003.
Fitzsimons said she's already "training hard in the pool" in preparation for the 2005 World Games.
Nancy Dunaway, of Akron, the only other medalist from Northeast Ohio, won gold medals in singles and doubles tennis, Fitzsimons said.
Events at the Australian Transplant Games included cricket -- a grudge match between Australia and England ended in a tie this year -- badminton, pool, tennis, table tennis, beach volleyball, rowing, a variety of swimming competitions, track and field events, cycling and tug-of-war.