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Live on TransWeb...1998 US Transplant Games

Opening Ceremonies Program, featuring Real Audio

Sweet Spirit
story by Eleanor Jones, Jim Dean, Andrew Ti, and Maureen Fox

photography by Joel Lerner (assisted by Tanya Good), Nick Dean, Karen Kring, and Bob Fox

audio by Bob Garypie, Doug Armstrong and Fran Kelsen

See also: More photos
and NKF Real Video clips of teams entering the stadium, unveiling the postage stamp & Larry Hagman, and lighting the torch.

If you've never been to the U.S. Transplant Games, you can't know the incredible sense of camaraderie that results when thousands of people gather to celebrate the gift of life. An eighteen year old volunteer who had never been to such an event put it very well: "Being here is the reason for being here."

The air was thick with humidity, and the temperature hovered around 80 degrees F, making the crowd pretty sticky. Ominous clouds filled the sky over the Ohio State University Stadium, threatening rain up until the very last moment.


But the prayers of Father Fwasi Anthony Thornell were answered. When delivering the benediction, he said he prayed "Oh Lord, there are many parades you can rain on, but not this one.... There is a sweet, sweet spirit in this place."

Remember the processional at the 1996 summer Olympics at Atlanta? The pageantry was fantastic, no doubt. But only the Transplant Games have the "sweet spirit" unique to a celebration of lives saved by the selfless generosity of strangers.

Athletes from all walks of life, with all kinds of transplants, from all over the U.S. began lining up for the procession into the stadium at 5:30 in the afternoon. As they assembled, they posed for team photographs in front of a large poster of the new U.S. postage stamp commemorating organ and tissue donation (which was issued today) on their way into the horseshoe-shaped OSU stadium.
The long-anticipated organ and tissue donation awareness postage stamp was issued today, and programs handed out at the ceremony included first-day-of-issues. Senator Mike Dewine made the announcement.
My thoughts turned to Ed Heyn when the stamp was unveiled - and how I wish he were still alive to see his dream fulfilled. A kidney recipient from Michigan, Ed worked so tirelessly trying to get the approval of the Stamp Advisory Board, sending them updates on the numbers of signatures (on petitions) quarterly for years. Today there was a concurrent dedication in Barroda, Michigan, in his honor.


Speakers and other V.I.P.'s in attendance gathered at the stage area and were surrounded by the media, among them former basketball player Oscar Robertson (who donated a kidney to his daughter) and actor Larry Hagman, who had a liver transplant three years ago. Wearing a panama hat and a light-colored suit, Mr. Hagman could be seen talking to donor families and using his own video camera to record the event, just like many of the other transplant recipients.



A colorful stage was erected at the closed end of the stadium, complete with two huge video screens, onto which live video closeups were projected throughout the ceremony, giving everyone a good view of the goings on. Two people were on hand to sign the event for the deaf, and their hands were often shown on the video screens, particularly during the national anthem, during which their signing movements took on a particularly graceful and flowing manner.


Six hundred donor family members, many dressed in the the uniforms of the team they accompanied to the Games, led the procession, entering the stadium in silence. The crowd at the other end of the stadium didn't notice them at first, but then broke into applause, and then a standing ovation, when they realized they were donor families - those very people whose generosity had saved their lives. The air nearly crackled with the electricity of the moment!


Leading the donor families were several people, including Maggie Coolican (the donor mom who originated the quilt) carrying the first section of the National Donor Qamily Quilt, an impressive memorial handmade from squares contributed by donor families. The quilt was hung behind the speaker's platform, and the full quilt will be on display in the Drake Union throughout the Games.


Donor families were escorted into the front section of the stands, which were reserved for them. Some carried photos of their loved ones, and tears were not uncommon. Members of the Delaware Valley Transplant Program gave each donor family member and living donor a Gift of Life medal, and a fragrant lei.

Following the donor families were members of the Coalition on Donation and other groups dedicated to organ donation and transplantation. In the meantime, the lines of teams, in their colorful uniforms formed a bright panorama seen stretching all the way around the track.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the athletes of the 1998 United States Transplant Games!" At 7:00 p.m. the procession began with Team Alabama, which consisted of just one man, who had received a kidney transplant only three months ago. The Alabama team manager, carrying the team's flag, ran it up to the area to the right of the stage, to plant it behind a line of yellow mums, where a line of team flags grew as more teams entered.


You wouldn't believe the cheers, whistles, waving, and applause that erupted from different parts of the audience as each team came forward, carrying a team banner and waving at the audience. A group of Team Maryland supporters waved Maryland flags at the top of the stands as their athletes took the field. Team Louisiana tossed Mardi Gras beads to the crowd. When the 110 members of Team Michigan came in and were cheered by their fellow athletes, it was the warmest reception that the maize and blue ever received in this, the home field of arch football rival Ohio State.
The larger teams got the largest reaction, but everyone was cheered, with special notice given to the one- or two-person teams, the youngest athletes - who often travelled at the front of their team, in strollers. The atmosphere was festive, with old friends hugging in the stands.

When everyone was seated it was an amazing sight: thousands of people who, without the miracle of transplantation, would not be alive, were gathered together with thousands of their friends and family members and the donor family members who made the decision to save a stranger's life. Add to that six hundred volunteers, the staff of the National Kidney Foundation, and many notable guests, as well as the media, and you have set the stage for the 1998 U.S. Transplant Games!

Experience the Opening Ceremonies for yourself, via Real Audio


See also: More photos

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Last modified: 11 May 2000