Irish in race to line for most medals at transplant games
IT may have been Friday the 13th but that didn't dampen the spirits of athletes competing in the sixth European Transplant & Dialysis Games yesterday.
These were no ordinary games.
The athletes, many of whom have had liver, kidney or tissue transplants, were celebrating their second chance at life in events like running, cycling, swimming and petanque -- a form of boules played on gravel.
For some there were double celebrations at the Dublin event.
Austrian sister and brother Renata and Thomas Honesch share bone marrow.
When Renata (51) was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, it was discovered that Thomas (44) was a match and he donated marrow to his sister who competed in the 1,500 metre races at Santry Park yesterday.
Renata, who is also partially sighted, won two medals and her only regret was that the games did not go on for longer.
"It's been a very good time," she said. "The only thing is the trip to Ireland has been too short."
The games, which have been running for 10 years, are the brainchild of Macedonian-born Nick Karantakos who had renal failure before he was 21.
The 71-strong Irish team, which has representatives from 21 counties, have already topped their record from the 2008 games in Germany with more than 50 medals.
Last night it was looking like a race to the finish between the Irish and Hungarian teams for the most amount of medals ahead of the finish today.
But some competitors, showing their fighting spirit, were adamant that Ireland could still bring home the gold.
Regina Hennelly (28) from Manulla, Co Mayo, receives kidney dialysis and was holding out for her team yesterday.
"Of course the Irish team can win," said Regina, who has won four medals so far.
Earlier in the week, liver transplant survivor Charlie Ryan also had a double celebration.
Not only did the Cobh native retain his darts gold medal title at DCU, but he was also celebrating the three-year anniversary of his transplant.
Charlie said: "It's a very special day and I've more than one thing to celebrate."
No stranger to drama, Ryan took the glory in his stride.
A former seaman, he was the skipper on the ferry that shipped prisoners from Cork to the jail on Spike Island for 10 years and only retired when the centre closed in 2004.
He was also on duty the night a riot broke out at the youth correctional facility in 1985 when the inmates mutinied and briefly controlled the island.
"We had to ship the gardai on to the island to get things under control," he said yesterday, celebrating his win with the darts team he plays with at his local pub in Cobh, The Quarry Cock.
Elsewhere in the university-campus-turned-sports grounds, Monica Finn, from Athlone Road, Co Roscommon, was in valiant form.
The two-time kidney recipient and mother of three also survived cancer in 2008.
She won two medals -- for cycling and darts.
"When I got cancer I never thought I would make it to the games this year," she told the Irish Independent.
"Friends from all around Europe, who I have met through the games, have been asking how I am and it's a brilliant experience."
For Martina Goggin, however, the games mean something quite different.
Four years ago her 26-year-old son Eamonn died following a tragic car accident in Spiddal, Co Galway, and she and her husband Denis donated his organs.
They have also established a foundation to have the first national garden built to commemorate organ and tissue donors at Salthill in Co Galway.
A website, www.strange boat.org, has also been set up to promote the park.
"It's a strange but good feeling here at the games," she said yesterday. "But the concept of the foundation and the website is to bring comfort to all affected by organ and tissue donation and I hope it achieves that."
For an organ donor card FREETEXT the word 'DONOR' to 50050.