Action from the British Transplant Games in Liverpool in 2016. Pic: Respice Photography.

Let The Transplant Games Begin . . . In Newport

If you like your sport inspirational, and even humbling, then get along to the British Transplant Games which start today in Newport. The event features transplantees in a wide variety of sports from athletics to football and ten-pin bowling. Rob Cole tells some of the competitors’ stories.

Wales has played its part in hosting many major sporting occasions – the 1958 Commonwealth Games, 1999 Rugby World Cup, 2010 Ryder Cup, 2012 Olympic Games, 2019 Cricket World Cup – and this weekend Newport will add to that illustrious list.

While the world renowned events already mentioned are huge celebrations of sporting achievement, the Westfield Health British Transplant Games will be more a celebration of life.

Cardiff has hosted the event three times in the past, but with more than 2,000 athletes expected to take part in 24 different sports, the event in Newport will be bigger than ever before as it returns to Wales after a 23-year gap.

The action begins with the Opening Ceremony at Rodney Parade on Thursday, 25 July, and over the next three days will feature golf at the Celtic Manor and swimming, tennis, table tennis, badminton and athletics at the Newport International Sports Village. There will also be darts, snooker, ten-pin bowling and football.

The Welsh team should have an advantage when it comes to the adult 6-a-side soccer shoot out having been given some specialist training by Newport County.

One of the team is Shaun Ruck, who has had two kidney transplants and is currently back on dialysis. He doubles as the team manager and can’t wait to get into action.

“If you’ve been on dialysis, maybe anything from three to five years, you’ve been disconnected from the real world, and all you know is eat, sleep, dialysis, repeat. In my situation it’s all about pushing yourself to the limits – to make sure that you’re not missing out just because of the condition that you have,” said Shaun.

Teammate Darren Brown is a triple-kidney transplantee. He admits the nerves have started to build up, but is ready for a big performance on home soil.

“You want to make sure you give your best for your teammates. We’ve all been through the same condition and we’ve all got a similar background,” said Darren.

“We support each other and we share our stories together. They’re always there to pick you up if you’re feeling down.”

The British Transplant Games is being staged in Newport.

Founded as the ‘International Transplant Olympics’ by British transplant surgeon Maurice Slapak in 1978, the first event took place in Portsmouth. The athletes returned for the second event the following year before the British Transplant Games was launched in its own right in Birmingham in 1980.

It’s billed as an opportunity for transplanted athletes – they must have had a life-saving hard organ or stem cell transplant to participate – to compete for fun. The initial idea of the founder was to provide a means for transplant patients to stay physically active to enhance their chances of survival.

But more than that, the Games have become a massive demonstration of the positive aspects of transplantation and donation. In that respect Wales has a special place in leading the UK having approved the “Opt Out” rule in 2015, which England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are soon to embrace.

Even so, there is still a lot of work to be done in “Donation Conversation”, so that families and loved ones know full well that you are a “consenting” donor in the event of the opportunity happening.

There are currently 6,229 people waiting for a transplant in the UK, while 1,107 people have received a transplant since April, 2019.

“For many of these athletes, of which there are some 300 children, entering a stadium and representing their Transplant Unit is one of the highlights of their sporting lives,” said David Nix, President of the UK Donor Network.

There will be an incredible team of 20 young people, who have all had liver transplants, representing King’s College Hospital, along with four live donors. Among them is an eight-year-old who had two liver transplants in May, 2017, and will be taking part in the obstacle race, ball throw, badminton and 50 metres.

“The reason we do it is to thank our donors. We want to make them feel proud and show off the benefits of organ donation,” admitted one young participant, Millie Stobie Platts.

As for local competitor Sophie Washington, who was Britain’s youngest pancreas transplant recipient in 2013, she will be taking part at her second Games and relishes the chance to play and keep active.

“Taking part in the Games is something very special. We’re all linked by an experience and we are all celebrating the fact we’re alive, although we wouldn’t be if people hadn’t given their organs,” said SophiMillie Nicoll will be travelling from Aberlour, in Scotland, to take part in the table tennis and shot putt events. The 17-year-old was born with biliary atresia – a rare and deadly liver condition that meant harmful toxins were trapped within her body. She needed a life-saving operation when she was just six weeks old.

Since then she has had to undergo countless operations and in 2017 she finally received a liver transplant. That was life-changing and has enabled her to get back to some of her favourite sporting pastimes, such as horse riding, tennis and netball.

“I’m feeling a bit nervous about going to the Games, but I’m also really excited as I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. I’ve been training as best I can for both of the events, but I’ve been focusing more on table tennis as I feel I’m a lot better at it than the shot,” admitted Millie.

“It’s a really great opportunity for me and all other transplant patients all over the UK. I hope it gives other young people who are waiting for a transplant hope for the future and raises awareness of the importance of organ donation.

“I now have a life to look forward to, without having to fight and struggle through each day, which is why I am thankful for the strength and bravery of the family to allow the donation to go ahead during a time of loss.”

For once this week we will see a sporting event at which drug tests won’t be necessary because winning will be of secondary importance to the taking part.

The British Transplant Games has been staged annually since 1980 after Portsmouth hosted the inaugural International Transplant Olympics in 1978 and 1979. The host cities have been:
Birmingham (1980), Manchester (1981), Cardiff (1982), Newcastle (1983), Birmingham (1984), Edinburgh (1985), Liverpool (1986), Exeter (1987), Cardiff (1988), Leicester (1989), Crystal Palace (1990), Glasgow (1991), Exeter (1992), Newcastle (1993), Portsmouth (1994), Sheffield (1995), Cardiff (1996), Liverpool (1997), Belfast (1998), Birmingham (1999), Newcastle (2000), Leeds (2001), Loughborough (2002), Stoke (2003), Norwich (2004), Loughborough / Leicester (2005), Bath (2006), Edinburgh (2007), Sheffield (2008), Coventry (2009), Bath (2010), Belfast (2011), Medway (2012), Sheffield (2013), Bolton (2014), Newcastle Gateshead (2015), Liverpool (2016), North Lanarkshire (2017), Birmingham (2018)

The British Transplant Games are being hosted in Newport between 25-28 July. For more information log on to


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