MOUNT VERNON — Knox County will play host to over 100 competing athletes this weekend when the 2009 Buckeye Transplant Games take place at the Kenyon Athletic Center in Gambier. The games, which will include transplant recipients, living donors and donor families, celebrate the gift of life while giving opportunities to participants to share their stories.
Mount Vernon resident Carol Fitzsimmons, who had a kidney transplant in 2000, has taken on the task of organizing the games, now in their third year.
“In 2001, the National Kidney Foundation of Ohio started [a games] in Columbus to introduce people to transplant recipients, but they had to suspend that because of funding issues,” said Fitzsimmons. “Two years ago, it was kind of a dream of mine to start it back up to give other people the opportunities I’ve had.
“The experience I’ve had in these type of events has been so worthwhile to me and my post-transplant rehab. It has given me goals every year to be healthy. ... I wanted to give other transplant recipients an opportunity to see what the games are all about because my transplant family, obviously, means a lot to me. Before these games, I didn’t know a single soul who was a transplant recipient, and now, I talk to someone every single day. It is a great encouragement to me, and I want to be there to encourage others.
“Another reason for this is to encourage organ and tissue donation within my own community,” Fitzsimmons added. “I want to raise awareness for the need.”
The Buckeye Transplant Games are more than just about competition. They also help foster a camaraderie through teamwork.
“For the Buckeye Games, we are not really running it as a competition because we don’t have the numbers per age group and per gender that we need,” said Fitzsimmons. “Normally, only recipients get to participate, but we are allowing support people and their families and living donors to join us in the events as well, as a celebration. This will give everybody an idea of what the different sports are, and it lets them get involved.”
Although the games are focused on individuals from the Buckeye state, Fitzsimmons expects competitors to come from as far away as Maine and Florida, as members of Team USA will be making the trip to compete.
Local transplant recipients, donors or families are invited to participate in the weekend-long event. Spectators are also invited and encouraged. There is no charge to watch the games, although donations are requested.
“We would love to have people come out and participate. If they haven’t pre-registered, they can register there,” said Fitzsimmons. “If people just want to come out and watch, they are welcome to. We really appreciate people coming out and cheering us on. It is encouraging to have people come and see what this is all about.
“They can make a donation to the Transplant Athletics Foundation. That would be more than welcomed. ... The games are pretty expensive to put on, and we are doing this as a grassroots effort.”
The weekend begins on Friday evening in Mount Vernon before moving to Gambier and then Howard. There is a luau scheduled for Saturday evening for participants of the games.
“We are kicking off the weekend with bowling at Colonial City Lanes in Mount Vernon and a pizza party, sponsored by Lifeline of Ohio,” Fitzsimmons said. “On Saturday, Mount Vernon Mayor Dick Mavis will open our games by reading a proclamation, and we will have the mascot from Lifeline of Ohio there to race the kids around the track. Any children that would like to come participate in that are welcome as well.
“On Saturday at Kenyon, we are starting off with track and field. We will have numerous running events as well as the shot put, discus and softball throw. We will also have a race walk. In the afternoon, we will have 3-on-3 basketball, volleyball, tennis and swimming. Then on Sunday, we will have a golf outing at Apple Valley Golf Course. The first tee time is around 10:30 a.m.”
Anyone in the community is welcome to join in the golf outing, provided there are enough tee times. Fitzsimmons recommends for anyone interested to call the golf course to check availability.
Fitzsimmons knows she could not put this on alone. Many individuals and businesses have helped make this event a reality, and their continued support has helped it grow each year.
“It takes a lot to put this all together,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’ve had a lot of cooperation with various business and people in the Knox County area, which has been great. ... Most of our volunteers right now are people that are actually connected to a transplant. We could, of course, always use more, so as more people become familiar with the event, we are hoping to have more involvement from the community. It takes a lot of people to put everything together.”