The Spirit of the 2022 Transplant Games in San Diego, CA

When I gave presentations about the Transplant Games of America and the North Carolina Transplant Athletes, I’d always start by telling my audiences, “Don’t get caught up in our name — Transplant ‘Athletes’ — I put “athlete” on the shelf about 25 years ago and there it will stay!” I can truly say, “I USED to be an athlete!”

Boy, did that prove true when I got to the Transplant Games in San Diego! I had hip replacement surgery in February and my doctor had forbidden me to participate in anything that involved running, jumping, leaping, or sliding. Well, that pretty much wiped out all the track and field events! I did manage to convince her that I could pretty much stand in one place and play basketball. And that was the extent of my athletics at the 2022 Transplant Games of America; I was a member of the basketball team.

But I didn’t miss a beat at the Games. I participated in so many other things that I really didn’t miss the sporting events. As soon as I went to register, my adventures began. I don’t know if it was because we missed the Games in person in 2020 because of the pandemic, or because the true meaning of the Games hit me, but as I arrived at the Convention Center and saw the “Welcome to the 2022 Transplant Games of American in San Diego, CA” welcome sign, an emotion hit me that I just could not control. There were a number of other recipients around also and we all just indulged in the spirit of transplant recipients coming together celebrating life! We introduced ourselves, took pictures, traded team pins, and exchanged stories about our different organ transplants. My highlight was asking a gentleman, what was his organ? And he replied, “I haven’t been transplanted yet; I’m on the list, waiting. I had been kind of nervous but after seeing you, your spirit and your energy, I’m know I’m going to be OK!” WOW! What a feeling that was, for someone to tell you they know their transplant is going to be good, just from the positive vibes that you emit.

Throughout the week, I met so many people, heard so many inspiring stories and shared my story with so many other people. I had so many opportunities to tell my story, to be able to reach others outside the Transplant Games. You’ve heard of six degrees of separation? I met so many people that knew or had worked with the same people that I knew and worked with — it seemed like we were truly one big happy family!

One of the unexpected highlights of the Games was being able to hang out with my teammates and enjoy each other’s company. During the year, we met quite a bit on Zoom, had several meetings, and occasionally we had a get-together. But in San Diego, we were together for a full week. I had a great time hanging out with Yvette, Phelicia and her mother. We took the rail system down to the US-Mexico border and acted like tourists! We took pictures, learned some things about the border and just had a good time. We continued our tourist adventures by traveling back across town to Little Italy for lunch.

Along the way, we were Ambassadors for the Transplant Games, telling other passengers about our adventures in San Diego, our different transplants, and about the Transplant Games of America. We really enjoyed ourselves and as we shared our excitement with our teammates, they, too wanted to join in the adventures. We went back to Little Italy the next day to explore more. The highlight — pictures in the BIG Chair!!

I learned a lot attending seminars and workshops with the Games. It was exciting to see some of the things other states were doing to get communities involved in organ and tissue transplant. The thought of the true meaning for the Transplant Games was always present, to talk about the importance of and the need for organ and tissue donation. As well as to celebrate the life of us who have received transplants, and to acknowledge and pay tribute to our donor families.

I was like a little kid cheering for my teammates in their competitions and celebrating their winning of medals. But I began to get worried; I didn’t think I was going home with a medal. What a disappointment that would be! My chance came when I decided to join our team for Trivia. Me, Trivia? Not likely! But I became a star! So much of a star that my team had to calm me down. Every time I knew an answer, I’d excitingly shout it out. And they’d remind me, “Darryl, this is a competition, we’re playing for a medal!” And I did calm down, to the degree that Team NC won the silver medal in the competition!

It was an exciting week. From the opening parade, resulting in the North Carolina Transplant Athletes being on the front page of the San Diego Sunday paper, to the regular gold medals won by Jim Gill and Yvette Matthews, to rookies Annie Clark and John Laisure winning gold medals in the final game of Pickle Ball on the last day — all added up that to 28 medals won by our team!

The Transplant Games of 2022 in San Diego were great and we had an awesome time. We want to thank everyone all for your support. We absolutely can’t wait until the 2024 Games!

— Darryl Ellis, Liver and kidney recipient, NCTA 2018, 2022

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…what an amazingly generous opportunity!