19th World Transplant Games in EThekwini

Athletes and visitors enjoyed sunny Durban

Athletes from 55 countries participated in the 19th World Transplant Games
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The World Transplant Games, which wrapped up in Durban last week with a moving closing ceremony, have been deemed a resounding success by athletes and organisers.

Over 1 800 participants from 50 countries enjoyed Durban's sunshine in winter weather conditions that were warmer than the last Summer Games held in Sweden in 2011.

The Durban Games marked the first time that they had been held on African soil and the delegates were overwhelmed by the opening ceremony, featuring Zulu culture and a mass choir of 1 300 members of the public, singing the official World Transplant Games song.

EThekwini Mayor, James Nxumalo, said that the City is very proud to have hosted games of this calibre. “We are known as the events capital in the country and we have once again not disappointed in hosting games that are of world-class standard.”

People who have received life saving organ transplants from more than 55 countries worldwide competed in various sports. The games celebrated the triumph of the human spirit and the hope that is behind every transplant.

The games hosted 13 different sports codes at various venues around Durban. Chairman for the Local Organising Committee, Willie Uys, commented, “We couldn’t have asked for better weather.The athletes loved Durban, the competition was good and most important, the spirits were high. 

President of the World Transplant Games Federation, Olivier Coustere, said “I am very impressed with what Durban has rolled out in terms of facilities and organisation – which is well on par, if not better, than past international events.”

Organ donor awareness

The Games serve as the biggest organ donor awareness event in the world. The aim of the Games is to offer hope to those awaiting transplants and encourage the public to become donors by showing the difference that organ transplants can make to the lives of young and old people alike. In addition to competing in qualifying events, competitors had to be transplant recipients of either solid organs or bone marrow.

South African athletes made their mark in Durban

One of the hosts' standout performers was Helletje Uys, the National Secretary for the South African Transplant Sports Association and the Secretary for the World Transplant Games Local Organising Committee. She won gold in golf and was nominated the best women's golfer of the Games. In addition, Uys, who has undergone a kidney transplant, added a gold medal in the shot put and broke Transplant Games' records for the javelin, discus and shot put.

'Fighting for your life'

Swedish athlete Martha Ehlin encapsulated the agony that most of the athletes have experienced when she said: "When you are on the list, waiting for a donor, you are not waiting, you are fighting for your life and we are now celebrating our lives at this event in Durban."

Ehlin, who had five transplants during a 17-hour operation, won five gold medals in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2011 and won gold for shot put, javelin and cricket ball in South Africa, as well as a silver medal in high jump. She competed in four sports at athletics and volleyball, one dedicated to each of her five organ transplants.

Howard Dell, running for United States, set a record he desperately wanted on the last day of competition. Competing against record holder Andre Lassooij of the Netherlands, he broke the 200m World Transplant Games record, clocking 25.96 seconds to better the previous mark of 26.79. Dell also won the 100 metres in record time.

Montague Summers of Australia broke two world Transplants Games records for the 800 and 1500 metres and equalled the 400 metre World Transplant Games record. He also raised Aus $16 000 (approx R160 000) for an organ donor project to inspire transplantees to integrate in society and sport.

The next World Transplant Games will be held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 2015.

More local heroes

Local fans were not disappointed as two South African athletes, Daniel Matsoso of Alexandria and Morokwane Itumeleng of Lotus Gardens, Gauteng, finished first and third respectively in the 30-39 age division. Daniel Matsoso, whose face graces the event’s Durban street posters, won gold in a time of 19.13. Matso finished in fifth position overall across the line.  Matsoso who has had a kidney transplant, had run five Comrades Marathons, with a time of 10.45 this year his personal best being 8.40 in 2008. “I am so happy to win,” he said before breaking down with emotion on the podium. “This is a wonderful event to promote organ donor awareness and I hope many people respond and sign up,” he added.

Orla Smyth of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was the first lady to finish in a time of 22.59 followed by Andrea Jung (Hungary, 40-49) in 23.05 with Zanelle Britz of Pretoria East, in third place (18-29) in a time of 23.51. All three were age group gold medallists.

Zanelle, who is competing in her first World Transplant Games, suffered from leukaemia. She had a bone marrow transplant and has never looked back.

www.southafrica.info and staff reporter

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