Let the Games Begin

The Irish have gathered in Perth for the 24th World Transplant Games. With seven team members having competed at this level before and seven attending their first ever transplant sports event, one would think that it could be a two-tier team. However, it true TTI style everyone pulled together naturally with genuine bonds developing immediately.

Our team of 14 competitors was added to by family who travelled with the team and family and friends who have gathered from home and across Australia to make sure that although our team is smaller than in previous years we would be seen and heard by all and maintain the long tradition of TTI being a much respected and loved team.

Sunday morning started early with the 5km road race. We had 4 competitors; two with previous Games experience (Sheila Gregan and Tony Gartland) and two who were pitting themselves against their transplant peers for the first time ever. It was a mass start with all runners going together. All four of our competitors gave it their all and the supporters gave 100% commitment too. It was great to see the Ireland tops feature in the race .

There was also a 5km ‘Donor Run’ which started 10 minutes after the main event and Ireland was represented by Lucy Fenton (accompanied by her Dad, Dave). Lucy’s Uncle is team manager, Colin White, and her Great-Aunt Bernie is a new member of the team this year. At 9 years old, Lucy was one of the youngest runners in the event of over 500 participants. Working through some muddled results, it was great to see that Lucy was the fastest runner under the age of 12 to completed the 5km. Lucy’s sister, Chloe, and her Mum, Emma (Colin’s sister) were there to support along with a cousin of Colin and Emma’s along with his wife.

When it came to the medal ceremony, the Ireland team located itself close to the stage and we waited with bated breath to hear the results. A resourceful team supporter found the results online before they were officially announced so a select number of team members knew that Mairead was going to get a silver medal. Mairead was hoping for third but thought that she might be fourth. When her category (Female 40-49 years) was called and the Chinese girl was announced in third place, Mairead’s shoulders dropped. Unbeknownst to her, those around her prepared cameras and an Ireland flag… When it was announced; “in second place, From Ireland….” Mairead jumped for joy and there were squeals of delight. An Irish flag was pushed into her hand as she headed for the stage. There was great excitement as she got her medal and when she returned to the team.

Everyone headed for the buses to return to the hotel. Mairead could have walked on air the whole way home there was that level of excitement.

People took some time out in anticipation of the Opening ceremony to take place later in the afternoon. The team gathered in the hotel lobby and they all rallied and headed off to the bus stop and a short journey to the holding area across the Matagarup bridge from the world class Optus stadium where the Opening was to be held.

There was a great buzz there with the 46 countries and over 1500 participants gathered in eager anticipation of what was to come. Stories were shared and team pins were exchanged. Soon the supporters headed across the bridge to prepare a guard of honour for the athletes who paraded across the bridge and through a wonderful cacophony of cheers and applause through all the supporters. The Irish supporters were not shy in expressing their support as the athletes passed by, they were amazing.

The supporters headed into the stadium to await the parade of athletes around the pitch. There was a real sense of anticipation as the teams waited in the bowels of the stadium to be called out for their moment in the spotlight. It was with pure joy that the Irish team enter the stadium and the enthusiastic waves and cheers of the team were meet with a huge reaction from all the supporters and the teams that were already in the stadium. It was not hard to find where the Irish supporters were. The green, white and gold was very obvious and the noise they made was something to behold!

When the athletes parade finished and they were all seated it was time for the parade of donor families and living donors. As one, all the supporters and competitors rose and the applause and cheers were the loudest of the evening. It was immensely emotional as the donor families and living donors passed by everyone in the stands.

The official part of the ceremony got under way as we all enjoyed the majestic setting of the Optus stadium. There was a wonderful greeting and welcome from an Aboriginal leader accompanied by some dancers and a Didgeridoo. It was beautiful to behold. A representative of the International Olympic Committee welcomed the members of the World Transplant Games family to the IOC family and officially announced the Games open. The ceremony concluded with a fantastic light display, an experience the stadium is renowned for.

All those registered for the Games made for a function room in the stadium for food and drinks. The Irish team subsequently headed back to the hotel. There was plenty of chat, laughter and joy and everyone headed off to bed in anticipation of another exciting day tomorrow with competitors in Petanque, Cycling and Golf.

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