Until We Meet Again
Story by Maureen Fox, Fran Kelsen, and
Approaching the baseball stadium, one could feel the excitement. The enthusiasm and joy evident throughout the previous days continued as teams spelled out their names in chants before the program began. ("Go Ohio!" "Give me an M - I - C- H- I - G - A - N!"). The newly formed friendships were in evidence, as athletes greeted each other with hugs and waves. Members of Team Louisiana threw Mardi Gras beads to their new friends in the stands.
A slight breeze brought relief from the heat and humidity, as the sun fell lower in the sky and the ceremonies began.
Hank Rosenzweig of the NKF opened the festivities by telling some of the especially interesting things that happened during the week, like the two little girls who had been coached to run the race, but just stood there instead, until the video team started following them. Cheers went up when it was announced that TransWeb's webcast was selected as Net Event of the Day by Yahoo.
The American Society of Transplant Physicians presented "the U.S. Transplant Games outstanding achievement" awards to reocognize the accomplishments of some expecially notable athletes. In the "under 18" age category, Abby VanNortwick won (see her profile). In the "over 18" age category, the award was presented to Bruce Weir.
The Mickey Mantle Courage Award winner, selected by the family of Mr. Mantle, was Natalie Philips of Phoenix, Arizona.
The life of Chuck White, a kidney transplant recipient whose enthusiasm for life and remarkable spirit influenced so many people, was celebrated. Mark Bjorklund, a friend of Chuck's, spoke briefly of Chuck before the video about his involvement in the Games, and presented Chuck's widow Darlene with a commemorative award. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
The Jerry Cound Outstanding Athlete Award, presened by Ray Velasco, was given to Ryan Zinn and to Nancy Lonhart.
The crowd, happy to celebrate these accomplishments, applauded each award winner in turn...but really went nuts during the "countdown," during which Hank Rosenzweig asked peole to stand, and remain standing, if they'd had a transplant:
It was a great sensation, seeing everyone on their feet, clapping and cheering for everyone else!
Willem Bavinck, executive director of the 1999 World Transplant Games, invited everyone present to the next World Transplant Games in the Netherlands, and Hank Rosenzweig invited everyone to plan to attend the next U.S. Games (in 2000, location to be determined in the fall of 1998).
With the Games flag being presented to representatives of the 2000 Games and the extinguishing of the flame, the ceremony drew to a close and all the field lights went out.
As the crowd trickled out of the stands and moved towards the closing party, pure joy shone on each face, and one truly felt that life is an exciting opportunity, despite whatever difficulties we may face along the way. The sweet spirit in evidence at the opening was strong Saturday night, too - and will carry us until we meet again, in 2000.