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Listen to any of 19 segments of the Opening Ceremonies by Doug Armstrong
by Bob Garypie, David Katz, Joel Lerner, Bob Merion, and Eleanor Jones
Let the Games Begin! by Randy H. Milgrom
Before the Ceremonies Begin Enter the Athletes
"Standing O" for the Donors
Sean, the Big O, Carl ... and J.R.
Let the Games Begin!

"The Giver is Twice Blessed" by John U. Bacon

We All Come to the Games From Different Directions by Jim Gleason


Let the Games Begin!

by Randy H. Milgrom

Before the Ceremonies Begin

It was just prior to the commencement of the opening ceremonies of the 2000 National Transplant Games, and the athletes were assembling behind Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. Many were informally grouped among their teams, lounging around tables, relaxing following pleasant meals and conversation - and a tangible sense of anticipation was alive in the humid air.

"I'm humbled in your presence. All of you are my heroes forever."
- Oscar Robertson

Michigan team members, Maryland donor families, the host Florida contingent - all began moving in clumps toward the left or right field fences of the stadium, where they would soon be introduced to the adoring throng. One enterprising 11 year-old from Maryland seized this opporunity to trade some pins, asking all who passed if they might have one he didn't. This was Jamal Bailey, from D.C., whose mother donated a kidney to him six years ago, and who two years ago won a Transplant Games gold medal in the 50 meter dash. He was born with a disease he couldn't spell - all he knew was that he had been sick, and that the transplant made him better. Tonight, he had a firm handshake, a winning smile, and was ready to go!

 As Jamal squirted away with his mother and brothers, they darted through the mingling and the waving and the hollering - somehow avoiding the small logjam caused by Team Wisconsin as they paused to tie an inflatable plastic cow to a stick they would use to salute the crowd.


Enter the Athletes

By the time the upper deck of the stadium was filled beyond capacity, the skies were threatening, but no one noticed. The smooth, sand-colored stadium, with its grassy banks wrapping around left field, seemed to sway with the wave, and bend along with those who leaned with anticipation toward the outfield. "Who will be first?" some asked. "How will they enter?" Just as the athletes could be seen gathering by the gate, a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder sent all scattering for cover, but the weather delay did nothing to dampen spirits.

And finally... enter Team Alabama, streaming in toward the infield. And Arizona, with its seven veterans of war, and Arkansas, boasting just two members, both heart transplant recipients. And as the teams filled the lower bowl, basking in the warm and sometimes raucous reception of their friends and family members above them, it continued: the Northern, and then the Southern California participants; the Connecticut crew, many of them blowing bubbles with a child's bucket of soap, a wand, and a wave; the Hawaiian athletes, with colorful button-downs over T-shirts and an occasional lei; the Oklahoma group, clad in festive headdresses; and Wisconsin, and their cow, riding high.


"Standing O" for the Donors

The crowd loved the athletes, but they saved their undying gratitude - and their relentless expression of it - for the donors and their families. As they moved in a group across the outfield - some towing children by hand or in their arms, others waving eagerly into the night air - the stadium rose as one. The applause gathered, and grew, and continued.

For many minutes. And many tears flowed.

A group of young women wearing matching Nevada Dance Academy jackets were huddled during this ovation in the upper bowl when one of them said, "OK, right now. A group hug." Then they rushed together toward Anne Wyak Norris, of Reno, Nevada, and gently mobbed her. Anne's daughter, Kristen, was a teenager who had also been a member of that dance troupe when she died suddenly in 1996 after going into shock following a severe allergic reaction.

Anne and her husband, Richard, may also have been in shock over the loss of their only child, yet they did not hesitate to donate her organs. Kristen's liver went to a 58 year old married man; her pancreas and a kidney is being used by a 31 year old gospel singer; and her other kidney was donated to an eight year old boy. Hail to the donors, indeed.

Kristen was also an actor, a violinist, and a writer, so her parents created a foundation to support local projects for children in the arts. The Nevada Dance Academy of Reno has been invited to perform a scholarship dance in Kristen's honor at the Donor Recognition Ceremony at the Orlando Hyatt tomorrow afternoon.

The standing and clapping seemed only to end when no one seemed able to stand any longer. The National Anthem was sung - followed by an outburst of fireworks and the release of many doves.


Sean, the Big O, Carl ... and J.R.

There were many well-known folks in the crowd - and they all knew how it felt to be a donor or a recipient or a good and involved friend, and they spoke from the heart.

Sean Elliot, an All-Pro NBA forward who received a kidney from his brother, Noel, last August and was back on the court seven months later, said he felt overwhelmed. And the tears on his cheeks proved it.

"We all have a lot in common," said Sean. "We all know how hard it is. How challenging it is. For me, it was the toughest challenge of my life. This is something you should all be very proud of."

Oscar Robertson, a living NBA legend and Hall of Famer, donated a kidney to his daughter Tia of Team Ohio. The Big O sounded a similar theme.

 "As a gifted athlete who ascended to some heights, I'm humbled in your presence. All of you are my heroes forever."

And Carl Lewis, one of the Olympics Games greatest performers ever who was present at the first Transplant Games in 1990, is another tremendous athlete who places his own accomplishments below the athletic virtues of those who will compete here over the next few days.

"This is an honor for me," he said. "As athletes we complain about our bad backs, and you had to go out and get a transplant. This has been ten years of being introduced to people who are inspirational. I'm in a stadium tonight with people who have already won."

Larry Hagman, an accomplished actor well known as J.R. in the long-running television series Dallas, is a liver transplant recipient. He also paid tribute to all who have come before him, and all who will follow.


"I saw athletes today in their T-shirts, and I could see some of their scars. Some of our scars. Gosh, we have some beautiful scars. I honor those scars." Then, with a bit of theatrics that lightened the mood considerably, he ripped open his shirt and exposed his own belly-to-chest incision. The huge video screen behind the podium zoomed in on Mr. Hagman's abdomen, revealing the familiar-looking scar commonly left by a liver transplant procedure -- and outline resembling the Mercedes-Benz logo.

"My Mercedes-Benz!" he bellowed.



Let the Games Begin!

And just after the skies had darkened completely, and the stadium lights burned their brightest, Elliot, Robertson, Lewis, and Hagman carried the Games' Flag onto the stadium's infield. The Games' youngest and oldest participants - Bryce Jurek, 2 1/2 years old, of Team Louisiana, Thomas Williams at 22 months of Team Rocky Mountain, and Joseph DiNoia, of Team Philadelphia, 78 years old - recited the Athlete's Oath. And in unison, everyone inside the stadium, and those ringing its periphery, exclaimed, "Let the Games Begin!"


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