Tuesday 11 April 2017
This week’s Personal Experience blog comes from Simon from London
I am not sure if I should be blogging about my experiences in sport as even I am not sure if I qualify as disabled or not! I do not consider myself disabled for the condition I am writing about, but the medication I take to keep myself alive certainly has a detrimental effect on my health and ability to exercise, so you make up your own mind.
I contracted Hepatitis B in 1984 and unlike most people I did not clear it. It stayed with me, slowly destroying my liver. In 2001 I started to become unwell and by the end of the year was I unable to walk more than a few feet. The toxins building up in my body meant that I wasn’t able to think rationally. I was constantly cold and had ascites, the build-up of abdominal fluid, so was having fluid drained on an almost daily basis. My muscles had become so depleted that my skin wrinkled around me.
Placed on the organ donor register I had to wait for a liver to become available and to be a match for me. I was lucky; I got the call from the hospital. A liver was available for me. I quickly gathered what I needed and was transferred to hospital.
I received a perfect match. I was told that my donor’s liver had immunity to Hep B either because my donor had acquired Hep B and recovered or he had been vaccinated.
Recovery was quicker than I expected. I stayed in King’s Hospital for two weeks and then went to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton where I lived at the time. A week and a half later I was home. I was still weak from the year I had lived with a poorly functioning liver and the effects of the operation, but with a strong new liver I was now able to get about and repair the damage previously done to my body.
I lived one block from the seafront so I would walk each day to the sea and back. A little later I reached the first peer, a week later I could reach the second peer. It was time to get a bit more active so I rode my bike and got in to the swimming pool.
I had heard of the British Transplant Games before my transplant and knew that if I received a transplant I would want to enter them. They are annual games open to anyone who has received an organ transplant. Starting in 1978 in Portsmouth, they have continued annually ever since.
My first games were in Norwich 2004. Competitors are allowed to enter five events, each competing for their hospital team. I chose a 20 km bike ride and four swimming events. Medals are allocated in 10-year age groups. I came last in the cycling but won gold in the backstroke. I was amazed and looking back now, as a more experienced athlete, even more amazed, as I was completely new to competitive swimming, having only swum in competitions while at school.
A few months later I received a letter informing me I had been selected to join the British Team at the World Transplant Games in London, Ontario Canada in 2005. Now some serious training had to start.
I was lucky that I could train at Central YMCA and had a great coach who helped me with starts and turns (the fastest part of any race). He entered me into a North London Masters swimming competition as I needed competition race experience before entering the World Games.
In my first race at the North London Masters my goggles filled up with water as I dived in and my trunks came halfway down my bum with the force of the dive. Two good lessons learnt! Always tighten goggles and tie up trunks, thankfully neither has happened in a race again.
For the Games in London, Ontario I had entered a 200 metres freestyle which was my first race. I went out far too fast and by the third length lactate had built up so much I felt I couldn’t carry on but had the final 50 metres to finish. I gave up with the tumble on the turn and slowly came in last. But another lesson learnt.
My other races went without success; I was becoming despondent. To come all this way and to have trained so hard to not get a medal was unthinkable. Everything was left to the last race: the 100 metres backstroke. I had to give it everything but I knew now not to give everything in the first length and to leave something for the finish. When I looked up I couldn’t believe it. Third. A bronze medal! Something to take home! I was so pleased. To get a medal at my first World Games, whatever the colour, to me it was gold. Since my first World Games I have competed at four more World Transplant Games in Bangkok, Gold Coast, Gothenburg and Durban each time winning at least one gold medal.
I now look back on Canada and I realise how inexperienced I was, but experience only comes with time and practice, trying things out and failing sometimes. Training is often a hard slog but when I have a competition to aim for it makes the training worthwhile.
Without competitions, I would not swim half as much and without the training I wouldn’t be as fit as I am. I am not saying I am super fit. The medication I take to stop organ rejection takes its toll on my muscles and they ache more than they should, so I have to train to my ability, not over doing it. Avoiding injuries is important, over-training and getting an injury or an infection may mean many days or weeks out of the pool and it takes time to regain strength and stamina after a break. So, continuous is always best.
I do feel that the advantage of training is that it keeps my general health good. There is no way of proving the benefits, but 15 years on from my transplant I seem to be fit and healthy for someone approaching 60. I have learnt that you can only be fit for purpose; I am fit to swim but if I do some other form of exercise I get muscle pulls or strains so it is a balance to be fit for competitions but also fit for life. Keeping supple, doing yoga, doing stretches, doing circuit training, doing simple other things can easily be forgotten when concentrating on one thing, but to be fit for life to avoid as many of the modern-day health problems has to be a priority for me.
My current training is in preparation for this year’s World Transplant Games in Malaga, Spain at the end of June. By the time of the games I will be a “young” 60 in the 60-69 age group and I am aiming for gold again! Although the World Transplant Games are supported by the Olympic Federation and we compete as the National Team for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we do not get any government or lottery funding. All team members and the support staff have to raise their own funds to cover the cost of games registration, transport to games, accommodation and living costs while at the games as well as training costs and even buying our own UK team kit. Sometimes fundraising can be harder than the training! But it is always worth it as it a fantastic way of promoting the Organ Donor Register. Each time I race I race in honour not only of my donor, but of all organ donors who give the gift of life.