STORY: Jim Gleason
PHOTOGRAPHY: Marilyn Indahl

Seniors Inspire at the Games

As a heart transplant recipient returning for my fifth time participating in the US Transplant Games, it still is so inspirational to see and talk to all the amazing people that come.

This year, at 61 years of age, I find myself celebrating the tenth anniversary of my “new” heart. I look around with a new sense of awe and admiration of the very special “seniors” who come out and offer us an example of what long term transplant success and leading the fulfilled life post transplant is all about. At the opening ceremonies we all got to meet some pioneering recipients who have had their kidneys for 50 years now – imagine that! I hope everyone felt the inspiration they offered transplant recipients everywhere as we gathered to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that first successful human organ transplant. I know I did.

As we were flying out to the Games as a member of Team Philadelphia, I took the opportunity to talk to two such senior athletes to get a representative view of the games from their unique perspective. Knowing the pains I felt in such athletic participation, being the non-athlete that I am, I could only imagine how their own bodies must have complained. Each has 20 more years of life over me as they push themselves here again to give the world an example of transplant success and the fulfilled live they are both living.

The silver ghost, as some refer to him because of his signature full head of silver hair, is Team Philadelphia’s Joe DiNoia. Everybody knows Joe. Turning 83 in October of this year, Joe is to lead the opening ceremonies in taking the athlete’s oath as the oldest athlete competing in the Games again this year. This is Joe’s fifth trip to the US Games where he will compete in bowling and he says “maybe the shot put”, along with walking. Joe fondly looks back over these past 10 years of Games participation and says the best memories for him are the many, many athletes and families who have become close friends over the years. Joe is best known for his captivating smile and outgoing engaging personality. Those who know Joe talk about his energy, big smile and fun personality with an eye that even at 83 never misses a passing pretty face. Joe has been active with Team Philly for almost a decade now, having come out for the ’96 Salt Lake City Games after his kidney transplant back in ’93. While the thought of another Games seemed daunting, there was no way Joe was going to miss participating in the celebration of the 50th Anniversary event. As for returning for the next Games, don’t ask him immediately after these Games. The muscles are still too sore then. But come 2006 most would guess he will have recovered and be right back where younger athletes and families will yet again be looking for the inspiration and hope he offers us all over these past ten years. Joe sees as one of the real benefits of the Games is being the “cheerleader” for the youngsters, a term which includes even youngsters in our 60’s! Joe is just one who is representative of the many seniors who offer us their gifts in this way by coming out year after year to this event.

Looking for such hope and inspiration as you face your own challenges? Look no further than Bill and Alma Keys who are attending their 7th US Transplant Games here in 2004. Together they recall those early years in Atlanta and every other Games site since 1992. Bill is a heart recipient who was transplanted in 1990, making him a senior mentor to so many of us who were transplanted in the early nineties and beyond. Alma, his wife of 50+ years, is ever present at his side both at home volunteer events and here at the Games. Bill is a very active volunteer and speaker, especially at Scouting and school gatherings given his lifelong involvement with youth and scouting. His gentle smile and supporting spirit to recipients and donor families everywhere makes Bill a favorite with all the members of Team Philly year after year. Walking around the UOM swim event venue, you run into Bill anticipating his upcoming events. As you see him in his slim racing trunks, its hard to believe he celebrated his 77th birthday just last week. He is hoping that NKF will create a new competitive category for ages 70 to 79 (…or on to infinity, he adds) next time so he isn’t working against those 60-69 aged “youngsters” that have youth on their side. Bill counterbalances that youth with his added years of experience and has several medals to show for it.

Bill, like Joe above, cites the many found friendships at the Games over these many years as favorite memories that bring him back year after year. Bill, on behalf of so many of those friends, family and athletes alike, we thank you for your coaching and cheerleading. You and Alma are a constant source of Team Philly pride and inspiration and we look forward to your heartfelt support in the Games to come in 2006 and beyond.

As I said, Joe and Bill are just two of so many age 70 and above athletes who set such examples of transplant success for both us attending and those watching these Games around the world. There are so many more with stories yet to be told - like Joe Morin, 73, who beat me out for the gold medal in badminton in this, his first time at the Games. Joe, like three others who played their hearts out in that senior ladder, is a fellow heart recipient four out years now. His family watched in pride and amazement as he walked constantly before the match “to get his new heart up to full speed” and then proceeded to return every shot I put into his side of the net in actual play. I think he tired me out watching him work out that way. Later I heard Joe had actually cycled across his home state of over 500 miles before his heart attack and subsequent heart transplant. He truly was in a league above me, so seeing his son place the gold medal around his neck was worth the loss for me, but I warned him to watch out in 2006 when we will see each other across the court in competition again. Its such sharing moments as these that the Games are all about and this “happy heart” certainly knows that.


























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Last updated on: Friday, 05-Feb-2010 10:05:42 EST