By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
POLAND -- Nick Carson won a gold medal at the Olympic-style U.S. Transplant Games this summer, but his real prize was a second chance at life.
He got that second chance April 30, 2003, when he received a kidney transplant. Since then, the 53-year-old businessman has been trying to help more than 18,000 other Americans in need of transplants by educating the public about the need for organs and encouraging them to become donors.
To educate the public about how transplants improve the quality of life for recipients, Carson is competing against athletes -- all transplant recipients -- from around the world in Olympic-style games next week in Australia.
In August, he competed in swimming events at the U.S. games with other transplant recipients, winning gold in the 50-meter butterfly stroke race.
In Australia, Carson will compete in a variety of swimming contests -- butterfly, breast stroke, backstroke, freestyle and relay -- and cycling events. "I'm also signed up for chess, but there may be a time conflict with one of the swimming events," Carson noted.
More than medals
Nicknamed "Captain Nemo" -- after the fish in the Disney movie -- by his teammate, Carol Fitzsimons, Carson said that winning the medals is nice, but it's not the reason he or the other athletes compete.
"We've all got a second chance at life and want to spread awareness about transplants. The games are a tremendous emotional experience," he said, with transplant recipients, donors and donor families all coming together to celebrate life.
Fitzsimons, of the Mount Vernon area, wholeheartedly agrees.
She was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1981 at 17 and received a transplant nine years later after a friend, Janet Patrick, offered to give Fitzsimons one of her kidneys. The two women's blood types and antigens matched so the surgery was performed.
Before her transplant, Fitzsimons said, "I was so sick I couldn't even walk my dog. I felt horrible."
After surgery, she worked to rebuild her strength, swimming up to a mile a day.
When her doctor heard about her progress, he suggested she compete in the Transplant Games.
Fitzsimons competed for the first time in 2002 winning one gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the U.S. Transplant Games. She also won six medals that year at the transplant games in Canada.
In 2003, she won three bronze medals at the World Transplant Games in France, and this year won a silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle swimming competition.
But it's not winning the medals that is important, Fitzsimons insisted. The other organ recipients, donors and donor families "are like my family," she said, and they are all celebrating life.
Competitors who come in last get the most cheers, she said, because it's not about winning, it's about living.
She and Carson will be in Australia three weeks. One week they will adjust to the time change and weather -- it's spring there, Carson said. One week is for the competitions, and one week for sightseeing.
One other organ recipient from Ohio, Nancy Dunaway of Akron, and 17 from throughout the rest of the country will join them.
Participants sought donations from family, friends and businesses to pay for uniforms and the cost of the trip.
Among those sponsoring Carson are The Vindicator; Aerolite Corp.; Jet Stream International; Hill, Barth & amp; King; R & amp;J Trucking; James & amp; Sons Insurance; and The Kidney Group.