Tag Archives: competition

The 2016 Transplant Games In 3 Words: Joy, Inspiration, Resilience

Every year, the Transplant Games provides an opportunity for transplant recipients and donors to come together to celebrate the gift of life. This year’s Games were held in Cleveland, Ohio from Friday, June 10 to Wednesday, June 15. The Games included over 6,000 registered participants. We interviewed a few HelpHOPELive families who attended and competed in the Games. Here’s how they described the experience.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

Bill Soloway, 1-year post transplant, attended the Transplant Games


What made you want to attend the Transplant Games this year?


Transplant recipient Liz Casperite: I can’t remember the first time I heard about the Games, but I always knew I wanted to attend them after I received a transplant. In order to attend, you need to be at least nine months post-transplant with a doctor’s permission. The cutoff this year was October 1 and my transplant was on September 17, so we just qualified! Cleveland was my first Games, but it won’t be my last.

Liz’s living kidney donor Maria Weaver: As soon as I heard about the Games from my recipient, even before the transplant, I wanted to go! It sounded like an amazing event and a chance to keep exploring my new identity as a living donor while meeting more people in the transplant community.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

The Games took place in Columbus, Ohio in 2016

Transplant candidate Pat McEntee: I first heard about the Transplant Games about a year ago when I met some members of Team Ohio at an event in Columbus. I decided I would attend as either a participant or a supporter. My wife, Amy, and I went as supporters this year and just enjoyed the event, meeting people, sharing our story and listening to others’ stories. The fact that the event was in Cleveland near my transplant center, Cleveland Clinic, was an added bonus just in case I got “the call.” I hope to be able to attend AND participate in the Games in 2018.


What are some of the things you saw at the Games that made you glad you went?


Liz: My donor and I spent time watching track and field and saw some amazing athletes who brought everyone joy and inspiration. There was a woman who ran her first 100-meter dash with the aid of her cane, and a 2-year-old whose dad had to hold him back until it was time to run. These athletes made me see there is nothing I won’t be able to do with my new kidney. My donor and I participated in donor/recipient bowling. We were teamed up with a donor mom and her friend. We had so much fun being terrible bowlers.

Maria: It made me happy to see all the donor families wearing pins for their loved ones and talking about their experiences. Many were able to meet their recipients at the Games and it made me happy to hear and see their relationships. I loved seeing the smiles of the last place finishers as they plugged along the track and the crowd went wild for them! It was all about being there. It was a privilege to talk to people in the “quarter-century club” who had had their transplanted organs for 25 years or more. We heard so many stories.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

“We heard so many stories,” said living donor Maria Weaver

Pat: I was extremely moved by some of the stories I heard both during the Opening Ceremonies and just in talking to people I met. In watching the Games, I was impressed with the camaraderie that took place. After a hard-fought win in a close basketball game, Team Louisiana embraced members of Team Kentucky. It was nice to see people compete hard and win or lose with class.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

“I was impressed with the camaraderie,” said Pat McEntee


Do you think events like the Transplant Games make a difference?


Liz: The Transplant Games made a difference for me because I was able to meet recipients who have had their transplant for more than 40 years and get their advice. I was inspired to train for more events for the next Games. The community was also inspiring. We told our story to many people – Uber drivers, waiters, really anyone we met. The manager of an ice cream shop was so inspired that she volunteered for five hours at the Games the day after we met her!

Maria: I DO! I felt like I was in a protective bubble full of all of the most amazing people in the country. People who were handed crappy circumstances or fear or tragedy let it shape them into strong people full of love. The strength and grace I saw…wow! Puts things in perspective. I posted a lot of pictures and stories to Facebook and I got comments from people who said they felt the love and inspiration just from seeing them. It helped them to see this during a week in which the news was full of tragedy. I came away completely inspired to go back to the Games in 2018, meet up with the amazing people I met and became close to so fast, and do more athletic events!

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

“I was inspired,” said transplant recipient Liz Casperite

Pat: I feel like people would come and enjoy themselves even if there was no competition at all. I think everyone realizes that the prize of additional life is already won, so what happens in the Games is inconsequential. Everyone still tries hard and competes hard for whatever reasons they choose, whether it is to honor their donor, celebrate the fact that they can participate or just to have fun.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

Win or lose, “the prize of additional life is already won”


Is there an emotional element to the Games for you?


Liz: The Games was a very emotional experience. The tribute to living and deceased donors was amazing. I was very touched by the stories of the donor families we met over the week. I was inspired by a mom who donated the organs of three of her murdered sons and was still positive and spreading the word about organ donation. As recipients, we are all helping to keep their loved ones alive. We made some great new friends that I can’t wait to see at the next Games.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

“The Games was a very emotional experience,” said Liz Casperite

Maria: I was on a high all week. I’ve never bonded so quickly with strangers. I talked to everyone I could, and hugged, and teared up, and high-fived them. It was really hard to leave, especially leaving my buddies from far away who I likely won’t see for two years. Being there with my recipient and getting to tell our story to people and walk in the 5K with her was priceless.

Pat: I was surprised at how emotional the event was. Even at times when I didn’t expect it, I found myself tearing up. The emotions of joy and laughter were also present throughout the days we spent there.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

Pat and wife Amy experienced a range of intense emotions


How would you sum up the experience in 3 words?


Liz: Inspiring. Fun. Heartbreaking.

Maria: Love. Resilience. Celebration.

Pat: Joy. Camaraderie. Compassion.

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What did the Transplant Games mean to you this year?


About The Transplant Games


The Transplant Games is open to athletes with any level of skill with games ranging from cornhole and basketball to track events and swimming. The Games welcomes first-time participants and veterans of all ages, like 4-year-old kidney transplant recipient Cooper, who finished the 23-meter dash grinning. The Games includes donors and recipients from all 50 states as well as multiple countries. There are 21 medal competitions in total and all are free and open to the public.

Transplant Games 2016 HelpHOPELive

The Transplant Games are open to donors and recipients of all ages

Did you participate in the Games this year? How was the experience? Tell us about it on Facebook.

No Limitations: Equestrian Vaulting

We spoke to Alanna Flax-Clark, a paraequestrian who competes in equestrian vaulting and shows in paradressage events. In 2008, Alanna contracted an infection that rapidly destroyed her ability to walk. For Alanna, hippotherapy was an introduction to the immersive world of adaptive athletics.

Alanna Flax-Clark paraequestrian adaptive athletics HelpHOPELive horses

Alanna Flax-Clark is a paraequestrian competitor.

“Sports like equestrian vaulting and dressage have played a big role for me in gaining strength, coordination and mobility,” Alanna said. “It’s important that no matter how you get around, whether you walk or roll, you feel confident and secure in your body. I’ve learned to feel stronger and happier through my participation in sports.”

About Equine Therapy

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, hippotherapy is a way for patients to “engage…neuro, sensory and movement systems.” As the AHA notes, “a horse’s rhythmic, repetitive movements work to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, strength, flexibility and cognitive skills,” and encourage patient responses that simulate the techniques used for walking.

horse therapy hippotherapy equine therapy

Hippotherapy can improve strength, flexibility and even cognitive skills.

According to Ride On equine therapy center, “the horse, in some respects, ‘lends’ his nervous system to the patient so that the patient may experience organized movement.”

While adaptive riding tends to be recreational, hippotherapy is considered medical rehabilitation and is always supervised by a physician or professional. Hippotherapy has been used to rehabilitate patients with cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and multiple other conditions.

HelpHOPELive equine therapy horse therapy rehabilitation horse riding horseback

Hippotherapy is always supervised by a professional.

New Challenges: Equine Athletics

Alanna began pursuing hippotherapy “with no expectations.” Today, she spends the majority of each week riding or training her horses for equine events.

hippotherapy horse therapy rehabiliation Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna spends the majority of each week involved in equine activities.

While initially she worked with horses for physical therapy benefits, Alanna soon realized that she wanted more of a challenge. “After going through rehab and not seeing any progress, I began to get frustrated,” she said. “I wanted to get stronger, regain more mobility [and] coordination, and just be able to go outside in the fresh air and have fun.”

Over time, Alanna graduated from hippotherapy to adaptive riding lessons. At a riding show, Alanna competed in three classes and took home two first place ribbons and one second place ribbon. On a fateful day in 2013, Alanna saw an equestrian vaulting group perform at her riding facility. “When I saw what they were doing, I knew immediately that I had to get involved!” said Alanna.

equestrian vaulting gymnastics horse therapy

Equestrian vaulting is an impressive and challenging activity.

Equestrian vaulting is essentially gymnastics on horseback. To most, Alanna’s ambition as a wheelchair-bound rider seemed lofty and even ludicrous. But with tenacity, Alanna was able to begin competing on horseback at a walking pace within a year.

training equestrian vaulting Alanna Flax-Clark

Alanna kept practicing until she was able to compete at a walking pace.

The Benefits of Adaptive Athletics

Alanna identified some profound physical and emotional benefits of paraequestrian participation. “I didn’t grow up around horses and did not expect to fall in love with them as much as I did,” she said. “They really have transformed my life. Most people in wheelchairs participate in sports with other people who have similar disabilities. However, when I’m out of my chair on my horse, I’m on more of an even playing field with everyone else. You can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equestrian vaulting horse therapy hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark

“When I’m out of my chair on my horse…you can’t even tell that I have a disability.”

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative, Alanna confirmed. “At practice my teammates ask for feedback on their routines and form; they don’t even see my disability,” she said. “They want me to jump right in and help. It’s an environment full of respect and encouragement.”

Equestrian vaulting hippotherapy Alanna Flax-Clark teamwork

Equine athletics is supportive and collaborative.

She hopes her tenacity will allow other individuals with disabilities to discover equestrian sports for themselves. “I’m the only [athlete] in a chair that competes at vaulting competitions, to my knowledge,” she said. “It’s a more difficult matter for people with disabilities to participate…at the competitive level – even though it shouldn’t be! Horses aren’t the first thing that people turn to when faced with an illness or disability. I hope that starts to change. Vaulting is truly an accessible sport for everyone, no matter your age or ability. When one person starts doing it, it opens up doors to others.”

Getting Started

Alanna urged fellow athletes to overcome their initial trepidation. “Many people think that getting on a horse is impossible depending on their disability, but if there’s a will, there’s a way!” she said.

equestrian vaulting equine therapy horses Alanna Flax-Clark wheelchair

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals.”

“Horses are naturally empathetic animals and can help people overcome their personal challenges. I never would have thought that I’d learn to post at the trot, be able to sit independently at the canter, and even do a shoulder stand or maneuver off my horse into my wheelchair!” Alanna said. I’ve made a huge amount of progress…I’m still continuing to make big strides and learn new things each day.”

Learn more about hippotherapy and paraequestrian athletics before you participate, and always discuss your plans with your support team. You can track Alanna’s progress in paraequestrian vaulting and dressage on her website.