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The "Wu Word" Blog

July 2014

The Medal Giveaway

So far, I’ve attended the Transplant Games of America three times. 

Each time gets better and fuller of love, warmth, laughter, happiness, and understanding that great gains come from great losses.  Each time, I am privileged to meet new organ donor families and living donors who have saved lives in a time of unimaginable grief.  Each time, I bond with more transplant recipients and families who give me the greatest gifts of comfort and understanding that my family/friends and I have not been alone.  It is a humbling privilege and honor to be a part of such an extraordinarily grateful and loving family as the transplant family. 

The Transplant Games of America (TGA) consists of state teams.  The state team that I belong to that has doubled in size this 2014 year is “Team Liberty.”  Because the Transplant Games of America of a packed and overwhelmingly emotional and physical roller coaster of a ride, I never have the chance to talk to all my fellow team members. 

It was in the Hilton hotel lobby that was filled to the brim of Transplant Games of America attendees sporting shiny state team pins and colorful team attire that I happened to bump into one of my Team Liberty members who had received a kidney and pancreas transplant. 

His story had been featured at the opening ceremony, so I grinned at him, gave him a big hug (you can do that at the TGA—hug any transplant-related family member and you won’t be seen as crazy!), and exclaimed, “I loved that your story was featured at the opening ceremony!  I never knew your story.  Congrats!”

He smiled right back, thanked me, and seeing the medals that were hanging around my neck, he asked: “What did you get your medals in?”

I proclaimed proudly, “Two silver in swimming team relays, one bronze in 100 free individual swimming, and one in corn hole.  I was totally shocked about that one, because I sucked at it!” 

I asked him what medals he had received.  Once telling me this, he said, “You know, I’m going to give the medal to our local organ procurement organization (OPO), to somehow dedicate and honor these medals to organ donor families.  After all, it all comes down to these organ donor families.”

Time stopped still for me.  My weighted down neck from the medals suddenly felt heavier.   A pit in my stomach formed.  His words and projected project touched and affected me so deeply with the greatest reminder that I would not have even attended the Transplant Games of America if it were not for both my organ donor families saying “YES” to organ donation.

The medals this year seemed extra special, extra-ordinary, and extra ethereal because Ana Stenzel’s smiling face was etched into them.  The medals this year seemed extra special, extra-ordinary, and extra ethereal because Ana Stenzel’s smiling face was etched into them.  Ana was a double-lung recipient who tragically died last year after her fight with cancer.  She was a tireless advocate on behalf of the transplant community, top notch swimmer, and a spirit that was in a league of her own.  She was 41-years-old. 

Our conversation brought on an "Ah-Hah" or "Light Bulb" moment.  I am now on a personal project and quest known as “The Medal Giveaway”—giving my medals to those who have profoundly and significantly enhanced and made my quality of life and living better.

If I knew who both my organ donors and their families were, they would be the first that I would give the medals to.  But, since they continue to remain anonymous by face, but family by spirit to me, I pondered long and hard about who else to give my medals to. 

Undoubtedly, I have saved a medal for the local OPO that my team member had mentioned. 

I immediately wanted to give another medal to “Coach K”—my coach who had patiently and diligently strength trained and swim trained with me.

I wanted to give a medal to my nephrologist who had literally kept me alive with his medical expertise and beyond top notch bedside manners. 

Finally, I wanted to give the medal to my father, who I affectionately call “Papa Wu” for him always being there as the steady rock and unbreakable force throughout my life and with each medical or life hurdle that has come my way.

I purposefully gave my silver team relay medal to my nephrologist.  I explained to him, “Dr. B, I will always remember when you told me that I was ‘gold’ when I was going for the gold.  This silver team relay was a team effort of three kidney recipients and one double-lung recipient.  I want you to have it.”

He was speechless, and all he could do was envelope me in a tight hold that left an emotional imprint on me. 

I purposefully gave yet another silver team relay medal to my Dad.  I said, “I want you to have it.  There aren’t any words to say except you deserve it.” 

 My other two medals will be given to the local OPO and my swim/strength trainer coach.  For now, I look at them lovingly and memories of this latest remarkable Transplant Games of America flood me with such unexplainable joy. 

I have told people of my “Medal Giveaway” project and they immediately comment that this is very generous of me. 

My response is simply this, “What am I going to do with them?  Stare at them and puff up my ego?  No, I’m going to give them away to those who have wrapped me up in love and who have made my life and living all the more fuller and better.”

Besides, I think to myself, Ana Stenzel’s smiling face and story along with all of our stories will be given forward to make the greatest difference to those who are waiting for a life-saving gift as well as to honor organ donor families and living donors.

Most of all, I already gained my greatest medals of life and living when I received two of my kidney transplants. 

I could never ask or want for better, truer, and more selfless medals than my pre-owned kidney beans from complete strangers that have given me chances and 25 years of life and living in total.

Keep smilin’,
Mary ;-) 


The countdown is down the wire of a week now. 

I will be in hot and sizzling Houston, Texas for the Transplant Games of America.  I will finally return to my ‘home’ where I really belong.  My familiar transplant buddies and honored organ donor families and living donors will warm my heart and spirit once again.  I will meet with new faces, hear their stories, and embrace and love them already just because of our unbreakable common bond in transplantation. 

And, yes, I am going for the gold.

This 2014 year, I signed up as a swim competitor in 100 free, 50 free, and team relay medley.  As soon as I registered, I made a beeline for the “Club Fit” gym I am a member of to locate a personal trainer/coach to assess my swimming and strength skills.

Mind you, back in 2012 for the first Transplant Games of America that I competed in, I had an outstanding swim coach who patiently tried to work with my temperamental and pre-hip replaced body.  I ended up bed-ridden for two days.  Needless to say, I was leery and edgy that my body would flip out on me yet again. But, my curiosity to test out my new hipper and normal body surpassed any qualms.  My brand new hipper had given me a brand new lease and appreciation on the quality of living and life relatively pain-free.  It was time I put some faith in my body and myself again.

My blonde-haired and statuesque swim coach and I reunited again.  I flashbacked to two years ago when I was bed-bound after no more than five swim sessions with her.  I remembered the flippers and the comment that I “swam like a guy” with powerful upper body strength, but weak lower body strength because all my chronic pain issues were from the lower back and below.  I was scared that my body would betray me again.

My swim coach behaved like two years ago never existed.  There were no flippers and kickboards.  There was only my body in a colorful swimsuit, my purple flip flops, prescription goggles, and a tight swim cap that squashed my head. 

She laid it out for me from day one of our training two months ago just like this, “We are going to work on strengthening your legs, core, and shoulders.  We are going to do gym training and swim training.  When it comes to your swim training, remember elbows up and constant kicking.  When it comes to entire training and in personal life, belly button needs to be in to strengthen your core.”

Training began. 

These past two months, I’ve done planks, push-ups, weight-lifting, and balancing in the gym area and then constant kicking and arm drills in the water.   I waited in nervous anticipation for my finicky body to knock me out and leave me bed-bound again, but it didn’t.  Rather, my body responded that I was stronger than I could have ever imagined.  I was stunned at what my body was capable of now that I had a new hip replaced.  Sure, there were days that my body was in aching pain, but it was much more tolerable that it was yeras ago.  I began to watch what I ate and ate little meals throughout the day.  In the process of all this training, I lost 10 pounds and gained confidence and trust in my body that I never believed I could or would ever have.

I could do anything and everything.  The impossible was possible.  I felt like gold.  I feel like gold. 

And, then, came the “dolphin swim” technique that my coach apparently felt like my body was ready for.   As I was freezing and shaking in the swimming pool and struggling to listen to her, my coach explained to me, “Swimming techniques have evolved over the years, and it was found that when swimmers swim like dolphins of doing a half roll to their body that they swim faster and endure longer.   It is almost like your body is doing a side stroke from side to side.  Try it.”

For the past twenty years, I had been swimming a certain way to compensate for my vulnerable lower “below the equator” body.  Suddenly, my coach was saying that I had to go against these twenty years and learn what I was not sure that my new body was capable of.  For the first ten minutes or more, my mind was a metronome of ongoing thoughts if I was getting my arms at the right angle, if I was doing a side stroke, and more.  I struggled and spit up water.  My arms flailed and my lower back began to throb. 

I cringed under the water and thought, “Here we go again.  My body is going to flip out on me.  Please don’t.  Please don’t.”  

My coach was yelling at me while I was underwater.  I popped my head up for air and she said to me: “You are thinking too much about the strokes.  You are going too fast.  You need to slow down and stop thinking!” 

I gulped.  That was always my problem.  I thought too much.  I worried on overload.  I needed an off-switch to my body.  I shut my eyes and tried to truly feel the salt and chlorine-infused water that wrapped around me.  And, I slowly reached my left arm and did somewhat of a roll with my right side.  Then, I did the same with the right side.  Something suddenly clicked in my body.  And, off I went.

When I came up for air again, my coach was practically beaming and grinning ear to ear.  She simply said, “You got it.”

I glowed with golden and unexplainable joy.  I had never felt more liberated and strong in my life.  I had never had so much faith and trust in my body than I did right then and there.

A couple weeks have passed since my mental, physical and spiritual triumph with getting the basics of “Dolphin Swim” technique.  I’m still working on my elbows and shoulders to come up along with my constant motor kicking.  I’m now falling in love with strength-training. I’m learning and doing things I never thought I could do.  My body has not flipped out like it did before, but there are recent days that the pain is bad that I am reminded of all I had to endure for years and that I am still in my ‘gold’ period of trying to balance myself out in every respect.  All of this is frightening and invigorating at the same time. 

I often reflect on the constant changes that are occurring now in my personal and professional lives and how my new body and I are truly one in trying to adjust.  There is still particles of fear in me that my body will react with fury, and I remember what my faithful osteopath said to me soon after my hip replacement surgery,

“There will come a time when you won’t be scared anymore, Mary.  You will be moved around or jostled around at work and in your personal life, and something will just click in you and your body that you don’t have to be afraid anymore.  You won’t have to depend or try to control the uncontrollable with minute details.  You won’t worry about your body.  You will adjust and trust your body in every and any situation. ”

I’m realizing that that golden time is happening now.  And, nothing is more ‘gold’ than the learning curve and simply now. 

Transplant Games of America, here I come! 

Keep smilin’,

Mary ;-)
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