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Nine-year old Jason Howell prepares for his 2nd US Games competition by Doug Armstrong

David Burgio reunites with medal winners from the 1999 World Transplant Games by Doug Armstrong

Michael Manor, Jr., Greenville, MS medals at his first Transplant Games by Doug Armstrong

by Joel Lerner
Available at Intramurals.com
Attitude Overcomes All by John U. Bacon

Attitude Overcomes All
by John U. Bacon

The swimming meet might be the most revealing of all the events at the Transplant Games. For starters, the athletes are laid bare, with their tell-tale scars easily visible

After a while, even an outsider learns how to read them. If you see a small scar near the hip, that's a kidney recipient. A "zipper" on the sternum tells you they received a heart transplant, and a "w" indicates a double-lung operation. Liver recipients, of course, can be identified by the trademark "Mercedes Benz" inverted "Y" on their chests.

Saturday's swim meet also featured some of the rawest displays of emotion anywhere during the Games.

A lot of it was directed at Jackie Clare, 17, in the form of affection. Clare contracted spina bifida in her infancy, which weakened her legs. Although she can walk with support -- she even entered the 50- and 100-meter track races -- to get around better she often uses a wheelchair.

In 1997, Jackie's doctors told her she would need dialysis in the short run and a kidney transplant in the long run to live. Her family took a course on how to perform dialysis at home in 1998, which helped. "It was okay," Jackie says, "but I had good days and bad days."

The clapping and cheering grew with every determined little stroke.


The roller coaster finally flattened out when her mom gave Jackie one of her kidneys on January 15, 1999. "I'm a lot more energetic now," Jackie says. "I can do more of the things I like."

Like most other eleventh-grade girls at Orlando's Evans High, Jackie's list of things she likes includes -- surprise! -- hanging out with her friends at the mall and talking on the phone. She also appreciates "just going to school."

"I'm now in a work-study program," she says, "and I really like that." Jackie's work-study duties entail engaging the patients in conversation and mild physical therapy at the Lutheran Towers Nursing Home. After high school she hopes to pursue more job training and possibly attend college.

On this day, however, the task was less complicated: get to the other side of the pool, and get back. She was not the fastest swimmer in the 50-meter freestyle, but she was cheered like an Olympic champion, receiving a standing ovation when she finished. "Oh, I heard 'em!" she said. She added, "my arms hurt, my shoulders hurt, but I've been getting hugs and kisses from people I don't even know."

Not too many people anywhere in the world could fully understand what Jackie felt at that moment, but Sharrod Williams might be able to.

Sharrod was a normal nine-year-old African-American kid growing up in Philadelphia when he was stricken with streptococcal meningitis, which cost him the second halves of his arms and legs. Nonetheless, the young man, now 18, swims every day. "Every time I see that kid, he's got a smile on his face," says James Gleason, who works with Williams and others at Gift of Life in Philadelphia. "His attitude overcomes all."

But Williams doesn't usually have an audience, and certainly not one like the crowd at the pool on Saturday. There were dozens of heats that day, and plenty of the buzz and confusion that accompany any swim meet. But no matter what you were doing at the pool when Williams started swimming, before he finished you would have been watching.

The clapping and cheering grew with every determined little stroke, until you couldn't help but notice the noise had passed the usual threshold and was still growing. People serving pizza, people processing earlier meets, people loitering around the pool and people sitting in the balcony all stopped their activities and conversations to crane their necks, lean forward, stand up and move toward the pool to see what the commotion was all about.

By the time Williams made the turn, getting just an occasional lift on the stomach from Gift of Life worker Lynda McKeon, he had the entire crowd's attention. He made his way slowly down the lane, working furiously to stay afloat and reach the wall. The crescendo of cheering was soon accompanied by hundreds of red eyes and finally streams of tears. The vast majority of spectators that day did not know the young competitor's name, but they were moved to tears watching Williams durable spirit propel him through the water.

When Williams emerged from the pool, the scene resembled that of Lake Placid after the American hockey team had beaten the Soviets: people cheering, clapping and pressing their hands against their faces to mop up the tears.

You simply couldn't help it.


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