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Carrying Torches:
The Winter World Transplant Games Begin

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

Story by Randy H. Milgrom
Audio by and Matthew Quirk
Photography by Bob Garypie, Bob Merion, and Peter Ottlakan

Early Sunday evening in a tiny Swiss village jutting just barely above a high thicket of heavy clouds, hundreds of Winter World Transplant Games participants began their march to glory.

Along the narrow streets under looming mountain peaks, they came together in celebration: united in a common effort, joined in a common purpose.

The main street in Nendaz was dotted with a boisterous parade of expectant athletes, whose torches - held high in the gathering dusk and fog - illuminated not just the reds and greens and other patriotic hues of the 16 countries represented but also the joy on the faces of their huddled teammates and the competitors they will meet in the days to come.

From the Tourist Office to the Skating-rink, along the narrow street and under looming mountain peaks, they came together in celebration - united in a common effort; joined in a common purpose.

'I welcome you with the Deserter... We come from the race of those who give, of those who give lovingly, for those who are humble enough to receive...' (from Farinet's welcome)

Friends and family and other well-wishers had lined the parade route, and now they rimmed the rink with praise and patience, braving the brisk night air and blowing warmth into their hands as the ceremonies began.

As a smoldering bonfire at one end of the oval rink warmed the hearty vegetable soup and mulled wine that would stoke the revelry to follow, local dignitaries and other Games officials assembled at the other end, with the flags of all the represented countries placed strategically behind them. A long, bowed line of some 300 proud participants stood at relaxed attention as a drum corps, and group of musketeers, saluted them.

The first to address the gathered throng was the legendary pair of Swiss folk heroes, the Deserter and Farinet. According to local lore, the Deserter was a member of the Swiss Army who thought better of his assignment and left his post to paint, forevermore.

Farinet - mischievous and altruistic - forged coins, which he distributed to those in need. Though he had managed for a long while to avoid imprisonment, the crusader for social justice was finally captured and killed by police. Yet the life of this good-hearted thief remains in the hearts of his countrymen.

Addressing the crowd, Farinet said, in part: 'I welcome you with the Deserter... We come from the race of those who .. give lovingly... You who have received an organ have a body that has accepted it lovingly. Your face says that you recognize this...'

The impossible task of following a legend fell to Francis Dumas, president of the Commune of Nendaz, whose wonderful and rousing welcome, delivered in French, included the inspiring observation that this is a 'unique occasion for us to appreciate that life is full of tenacity and passion and will not accept the notion of giving up, or discouragement.' His wise words were translated into English by Liz Schick, a member of the Swiss team and organizer of the Nicholas Cup, who then translated into French the warm remarks of Maurice Slapak, Winter World Transplant Games President, who said he was truly impressed with the 'brilliant effort by the Swiss Organizing Committee. Congratulations and thanks from all of us to every single one of you.'

After Winter World Games President Jacqueline Casari read a letter from Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, and followed with her own call for action in a humble and heartfelt talk, it was time for the athletes' vow, which promises competition 'in the pure spirit of sport and fairness, and to honor my donor.'

Which is why the participants carried torches - for their doctors and their families, for their many friends and other supporters, and for all donors, everywhere, and their families. There are so many people to thank, and to remember. And these athletes have come to these Games in their honor, to continue the celebration of the life - created anew - that their sacrifices made possible.

Following this vow, Beat Gottschalck, the Technical Director of the Games, excitedly pronounced the Games 'Open!'

And just as quickly the ice was filled with kids on skates, scampering after snowflakes and chocolate coins being tossed around the rink by Farinet. As the children wrestled, and a brass band trumpeted, the party rose and transported itself to the pavilion above the rink - and the celebration continued well into the night.