Aug 23rd 2009 wasn’t like any other day. The sun was shinning in Brisbane’s Broadbeach except it wasn’t ordinary sun. It was a sun coming up to greet thousands of people who had descended on Broadbeach to attend the 17th World Transplant Games.
We are in the Gold Coast at the Transplant Games – a sporting event held bi-annually for transplant patients.
Our first main event was the beach walk – along the spectacular crashing waves, an inflated giant beach ball rolled by various people – 5km to and from the tallest landmark along the beach.
As you look through the long lines of people snaking through the beach, walking to celebrate the gift of life (of organ donation), you forget – despite the ordinariness of a day so hot in Brisbane – that this is far from an ordinary day.
It is most extraordinary to see so many transplant patients and their families and supporters gathered on a beach, being scorched by the hot sun.
Chances are if you turned around, you would have met a boy, a girl, a man, a woman of various ages. Chances are he or she would have been a recipient of an organ, or a donor family, or a family member of a transplant patient. Chances are he or she would have had multiple weeks of hospital stays, heartaches and tremendous quiet suffering that neither you nor I will ever know.
The New Zealand contingent came out full force – 20-0dd transplant patients and a slightly larger number of families and supporters. The air was filled with camaraderie.
We wear our black polos with pride. Afterall, the All Blacks had just won the rugby the night before against the Aussies, and a few Aussies and other nationalities who are keen rugby folks noted the victory. The world may not be able to pronounce New Zealand. But they can say the All Blacks. “What is a Kiwi,” a Canadian couple I met on the beach asks. Hm, how do I explain ways we use the word Kiwi in New Zealand?
The sand was the only cold thing around. The sun was unforgiving and wrathful. We trundled along and back. Sweaty with face like lobsters freshly cooked, we head back to the apartment for a quick shower and change before the next big event. For the athletes it was a group photo shoot. For supporters, getting ready for the big Opening Ceremony. The Opening Ceremony It was big, it was bold, and it was truly a showcase of Australia. We were entertained by voices, cheerleaders, dancers, string divas, voice maestros. It was not the crazy stuff that you see on telly with the Beijing Olympics but it was certainly fun and entertaining. It was an hour or two too long – but what the heck, the Aussies have got to strut their best and we sit patiently, waiting for the ceremonies and show to get on, and end. We even gave the host nation a standing ovation when they came in. The race begins in ernest on Monday.
Princess came down with the NZ contingent, looking for our faces as she marches down. The arena is a like a big black cave. We must have looked like bats to her, stuck to our seats. She can’t see us, but we waved and cheered “Go Kiwis”.
I would love to say forget the race but it is hard to forget the competitive aspect on a transplant patient’s life. It is as if every organ recipient has got a bigger story to tell – having conquered death (some of them multiple times), there is always something larger and more challenging.
The sporting competition will always be the sideshow, I think. The main drama is these transplant patients’ constant struggle with coming to terms with how life can be normal, and yet abnormal.
These are the contradictions. You can look a transplant patient in the eye, see his/her joy and triumph, but never their true battle scars. You see them fit as a fiddle and forget they can get very sick and turn custardy the next day. At the games, you even feel almost helpless you are so unfit compared to some of them.
If you have seen the Italian cyclists, you would think Lance Armstrong and Tour de France. These cyclists are slim, sinous and sensationally gorgeous in their tight biking gear. Our Kiwi cyclist’s wife was afraid she might have lost a pump she loaned to the Italians. Trust a Kiwi wife to be so dependable.
At the arena where the 17th World Transplant Athletes marched in, I got a sense of what it felt like to be part of a community – of people who have experienced hope and life.
This Thursday, August 27th, Princess will turn 11. She has had her new liver since June 2004. On Sunday, she will just one of 100 other kids in the games, all transplant kids. The adult athletes total just under 900. She brings with her a diary, her math homework, and an assignment from Mr May her class teacher to jot down things she has done everyday. It will be a hard task to keep to the homework. She would rather watch Sponge Bob on telly.
The sun is scorching. It is 30 degrees outside. Princess is just back from the pools with Aunty Malulu. Tomorrow (Tuesday) is her first event – tennis. Should we practice today? Maybe, maybe not. Lina my friend who lives in Brissy, is coming to visit us. We were thinking shopping?
Princess has been busy collecting pins from other athletes. She is a Kiwi gal. Kiwis are passive aggressive. They are laidback and competitive all at once. They are serious yet fun. The Kiwi contingent will battle the Goliaths in these games – the Aussies, the Brits and the Americans. We maybe a small nation but we are giant totaras – proud and unmovable. Go Kiwis!