As the 9th European Transplant & Dialysis Championships draw to a close in Vantaa, Transplant Team Ireland’s spirit is high as they head homeward today with a staggering final medal tally of 21 Gold, 19 Silver and 29 Bronze. This places Ireland’s 28 strong team in fifth position on the medals table with host country Finland, and a much larger team of 96 athletes, taking top position out of 24 competing countries. In second place was Hungary, followed by Great Britain and then Germany. An expected large gathering of family, friends and supporters armed with flags and banners are expected to greet the team when it arrives in to Dublin airport Terminal 1 arrivals hall this afternoon (4pm approx. flight Norwegian.com due to land at 3.35pm)
Despite extremely changeable weather and heavy rainfall on Monday and Friday, the determination and strength of the Irish athletes was consistent throughout. So too was the camaraderie and sportsmanship that they displayed not only with their own team but with athletes from all of the participating countries.
Throughout the week the Irish team saw huge success from the Table Tennis court, to Petanque, to the Swimming Pool to Track and Field in Vantaa as well as on the beautiful Golf Talma located in nearby Sipoo.
Newcomers to the team Noel Marsden, Matthew McNeive, Finian Farrell, Stephen Byrne and Richard McEvoy all slotted in to Team Ireland with ease and each shared the sentiment of having truly enjoyed the entire week and experience. Each member of the team left the Championships promising to keep training hard for the next biennial Games. Youngest team member Matthew McNeive (age 18, from Knock, Co. Mayo) described the team during the week commenting that “straight away they made me feel welcome and treated me as a member of their family.”
There were many fantastic sporting achievements throughout by Team Ireland athletes. Amongst them was the “flying doctor”, St. James’ Hospital Urologist from Dublin, Ronald Grainger. Ron impressed all with his speedy times on the running track and took home a phenomenal four Gold medals and one bronze medal from the Golf, 100m Sprint, 200m Sprint, Long Jump and ball throw events. Following his success on the track, Ron discussed how happy he was to be well enough to run to the absolute best of his ability which he acknowledged was thanks to his kidney donor.
Garda and Kerry Native Alan Gleeson (from Listowel) similarly showed fantastic times at the Track and Field events. This was Alan’s second time away with the Team, this time competing in the dialysis category as prior to his transplanted kidney failing he competed as a transplant recipient at the Games in Slovenia in 2004. Alan was delighted to join the team again and to take home two Gold and one Silver medal.
The strong sense of team spirit really shone through at the Track and Field when Relay Team members described their relay event as the “highlight of the week” as they were working together as part of such an inspirational team. At Track and Field events and all other events throughout the week, the Irish team were noted for cheering not only for themselves but all the other participants from each of the 24 countries involved.
The Swimming team of Dubliners Deirdre Faul, Peter Heffernan, Paul Prendergast along with Orla Hogan from Tipperary and Noel Marsden from Westmeath proved to be unstoppable on Wednesday, winning a total of 13 medals between them.
Peter and Deirdre took a very impressive five medals each placing them as overall top performers of the Irish team together withClare woman Marie O’Connor and Ron Grainger who also took five medals home secured at their sporting events. Marie put in a fantastic performance this week taking home 3 Gold and 2 Silver medals. Marie stated that her success was, “a lovely way to wind down the Games. It’s been great to be here with such great people. I hope I will return next year. My number one Gold is my donor, and I am deeply grateful to them and to my supporters at home. ”
This was Sligo woman and combined kidney/pancreas recipient Bridie Nicholson’s 10th Games to attend and she said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Bridie had a very successful week taking an impressive medal haul of 1 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze in the Darts and Petanque events.
Our Golfers also saw huge success taking eight medals. Oldest Team Ireland member and oldest participant at the Games, John McAleer, (age 78) from Antrim was amongst the winning golfers taking a Silver. John also the won a Bronze in the Petanque Singles Event earlier in the week.
Veteran to the Games Paul Prendergast from Swords, Dublin attended the Games with his beloved wife Rose and is an integral member of the extended team. This is the 10th time Paul has attended the Games since 2004 and his wife Rose is always travels with him to support him along the way. Grandparents Paul and Rose have 13 children and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in January.
New Team Doctor Claire Kennedy took fantastic care overseeing all of the team which includes six athletes receiving Dialysis treatment and Donegal native Kieran Murray whom was carrying a chest infection.
Last night the team attended the Gala Dinner and Closing Ceremony at the Rantaisipi Hotel at which Corkman Charlie Ryan and John McAleer from Antrim were honoured to be amongst the ten competitors, over 70+ years of age, competing at the Championships. They were called up on stage and John McAleer, age 78, and a retired university lecturer, was credited as being the oldest competitor at the Games.
Team Manager Colin White summed up the week as a joyful and fantastic experience full of the Irish Team spirit, “The stand out moment for me was today at the athletics track. The announcer knew that each time he would call an Irish name that he would get a huge reaction from the Irish. This for me really summed up the Irish Team spirit.” With regards to the organisation of the Games Colin spoke of the attentiveness and helpfulness of the local organising committee and the large number of Finnish volunteers whom, “wore bright pink t-shirts and bright friendly smiles”. The volunteer who was appointed to the Irish Team, Finnish native Jaana, seemed to take a strong shine to the Irish and even accompanied some of the team into Helsinki on Thursday evening for dinner.
Goodwill for the Irish team was in abundance with messages of support continuing to flow in on social media from family, friends, supporters and the general public. Letters of support were proudly posted on the team blog www.transplantteamireland.wordpress.com including some from prolific sporting personalities including Rep. of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, FAI chief John Delaney, GAA’s Mickey Harte, Alan Brogan and Brian Cody. Also sending messages of support to the team was Finnish Ambassador to Ireland Janna Teckenberg and the Minister for Health Simon Harris, T.D as well as Prof. Jim Egan, Director of ODTI (Organ Donation Transplant Ireland).
In his letter Prof. Egan said, “You are all exemplary ambassadors for your country and are showcasing the importance of organ donation and transplantation. It is testament to the courage of families of the donors and recipients and the efforts of the medical and nursing profession who underpin organ donation and transplant services that this event is taking place with a strong Irish representation”.
Transplant athletes on the team discussed their deep gratitude to their donor throughout the week following successes, with many dedicating their achievements and celebration of life in sport to their donor.
Newcomer Stephen Byrne from Tralee spoke of the “craic and camaraderie” he witnessed throughout the week. This was most definitely present at all events as the Irish team were regularly heard singing ‘The fields of Athenry’ and ‘Molly Malone’ at the top of their voices.
Transplant Team Ireland this year comprises 22 men and 6 women including 22 transplant recipients (4 liver, 17 kidney and 1 combined kidney/pancreas) and six athletes that are receiving dialysis treatment. The biennial World Transplant Games will be held in Malaga next year and many of Transplant Team Ireland are planning on participating there.
The Irish Kidney Association is responsible for the co-ordination and organisation of Transplant Team Ireland’s participation in the European Transplant & Dialysis Championships.
The team will return to Dublin airport terminal one ton Sunday the 17th of July at approximately 4pm (on Norwegian.com flight). Less than two weeks later some of the team will be joining others including Ireland’s growing children’s transplant team to compete at theBritish Transplant Games in Liverpool from 28th – 31st July.
For more information on the 9th European Transplant & Dialysis Sports Championships and the Irish athletes visit the team blog www.transplantteamireland.wordpress.com or visit the Games website www.vantaa2016.fi/en
For an organ donor card Freetext the word DONOR to 50050 or visit website www.ika.ie It is also possible to download an organ donor card on smartphones by searching for ‘Donor ECard at the iphone store or android market place. Your wishes to be an organ donor can also be included on the new format driving licence which is represented by Code 115
The full Irish panel is as follows:-
Antrim: John McAleer, Newtownabbey (kidney) (oldest member of the team)
Cork: Mike Keohane, Roscarbery, Clonakilty (liver); Charlie Ryan, Cobh (liver);
Clare: Marie O’Connor, Lahinch (kidney)
Donegal: Kieran Murray, Ramelton (kidney)
Galway: Linda Waters, Athenry (dialysis); Zimele Brown, Galway (dialysis, a native of New Orleans)
Kerry: Stephen Byrne, Tralee (kidney); Alan Gleeson, Listowel (dialysis)
Kildare: James Nolan, Kilcullen (kidney)
Kilkenny: Richard McEvoy, living in Limerick city, a native of Jenkinstown, Kilkenny (dialysis),
Mayo: Matthew McNieve, Knock (kidney) (Youngest member of team)
Offaly: Edward McAuliffe, Portarlington (kidney)
Sligo: Bridie Nicholson, Sligo town (kidney and pancreas)
Tipperary: Orla Hogan, Nenagh (kidney); and Edward Crowe, Carrick on Suir (kidney)
Westmeath: Finian Farrell, Mullingar (kidney) and Noel Marsden, Athlone (dialysis).
Wicklow: Philip Kavanagh, Arklow (liver)
Dublin: Ron Grainger, Castleknock, D.15 (kidney); Harry Ward, Team Captain, Baldoyle, D.13 (kidney); Paul Prendergast, Santry, D.9 (kidney); Chikoyo White, Balbriggan (dialysis); Peter Heffernan, Skerries (kidney); Michael Dwyer, Cabinteely; Leonard Ryan, Tallaght, D 24 (kidney); and Deirdre Faul, Dalkey (liver).
Team Manager, Colin White from Balbriggan, Dublin
Team Doctor, Claire Kennedy from Lucan, Dublin