From June 10–15, the Donate Life Transplant Games of America (TGA), a multisport, festival style event dedicated to raising awareness about eye, tissue and organ transplant, took place in Cleveland, Ohio, with a record-breaking 6,000 attendees.
Recognizing the entire transplant community, from donors to receivers to healthcare providers, the TGA’s mission is to increase the number of individuals registering as donor candidates on a national level and by state.
The traditional track and field, swimming and court events were on show, as well as less intensive activities for those that have recently received a transplant, such as Texas Hold ‘Em poker. Although structured in the same way as a traditional Olympics Games – with opening and closing ceremonies – the Games also boasted a whole suite of other activities, including a celebratory evening honoring living donors and donor families, and a beach party and sandcastle competition.
Lauren Pierce (right) of the Chris Klug Foundation prepares to take the starting line of the 5K race at the TGA
The Cleveland Convention Center also hosted its own Olympics-style Transplant Games Village, giving attendees the chance to relax and unwind with different events every day of the week. A Kid and Family Day featuring DJs, ice carving demonstrations and face painting sessions as well as a dedicated Foodie Day was also part of the festivities.
There was a sense of competition to the Games, with a Team Cup being awarded to the state with the greatest haul of medals. Out of the 43 states that participated this year, Idaho/Utah took the top prize with New York Northeast and New York Northwest coming in second and third, respectively.
The Games themselves are much more than a physical showcase – they remind those who have been affected by transplant that their lives are worth living. In line with that aspiration, there were several activities outside of the physical events, including a range of workshops and seminars tackling some of the most important issues in transplantation. This year saw an extended range of talks discussing such topics as life after transplant, health and fitness, and grieving.
Not only are the Games attended by those directly affected by transplant, but also by patient advocacy organizations, who are able to spread the word about their work in the Transplant Games Village. This year, one such organization was the Chris Klug Foundation, a charity established to raise awareness of tissue and organ donation across the country.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of those touched by transplantation to meet and talk to those in the same position,” said Lauren Pierce, Executive Director of the Chris Klug Foundation.
“It is incredibly inspiring for the Foundation to connect with everyone at the Games, not only with the donors and recipients, but other foundations and organ procurement organizations. The Games are the recharge button for us. We are able to see the direct effect donation has on a family.”
The Games also gave the Foundation the opportunity to showcase some of its individual awareness campaigns, such as its Donor Dudes initiative designed to initiate conversation about tissue and organ transplantation in high school and college students.
“We had the opportunity to coordinate many awareness and outreach events, partner with organ procurement organizations and provide our curriculum to other organizations.”
The Chris Klug Foundation booth at the TGA
There is no doubt that the TGA is an inspirational event, however this year truly solidified that message with its extended program and increased number of attendees. Pierce summarized the Games perfectly, “They’re so much more than a competition. It’s not about how fast you can run or how high you can jump – it’s about giving transplant recipients the chance to participate and be inspired by others.”