World Transplant Games { 18 images } Created 16 Sep 2015

With focused concentration, Leslie Meigs, 25, fixes her aim on the small wooden jack at the end of the pitch used to play pétanque. Although it’s less than 50 feet away, the jack — a ball with roughly the diameter of a plum — is blocked by the larger, grapefruit-sized metal spheres known as boules belonging to her opponent from the Iranian team, Masoumeh Rezaei. To win, Meigs must land her boules closer to the jack than Rezaei’s. And with just one shot left, Meigs, who is representing the U.S. team, is losing.

Wearing a blue USA shirt and matching track pants, the 25-year-old from Houston, Texas, looks the part of an American athlete. But her uniform conceals the lasting marks of the disease that led her to this pitch — the areas of deep scarring from a bout of meningococcal meningitis and septic shock that rotted much of her flesh as a child, bringing her close to the amputation of all her limbs. When she was 18 years old, residual health complications from a childhood illness caught up with Meigs — her kidneys began to fail, and soon she desperately needed a transplant.

Now, six years later, having received a donated kidney from her father, Meigs is healthy again and representing Team USA at the World Transplant Games, a global competition for organ transplant recipients and their donors, held this year in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

It’s August 2015 and the games’ 20th year of competition. The pétanque match is one of 10 happening simultaneously in the giant cinder-block building at the Villa Marista sports ground, on the edge of Mar del Plata. It’s the first day of the games: Old friends reacquaint; new athletes introduce themselves — everyone wrapped in hats and scarves against the biting Argentinian winter. The pétanque competitions are held in a large warehouse; its corrugated walls, high ceilings, and concrete floor give it the feel of an aircraft hangar. Except for a small border around the exterior, the space is divided into dozens of individual pétanque pitches, roughly outlined in wood and filled with sand.

Each athlete is accompanied by a group of supporters — a collection of teammates, family members, and maybe a sponsor or team coordinator. During practice, these invested fans sit in white plastic lawn chairs at the court’s edge. Dressed in team colors, they sip out of plastic foam cups filled with steaming coffee or tea in an effort to stave off the cold. Equipment is strewn on the ground between chairs, bags, hats, coats, boules, and packed lunches. Once the matches begin, they lean over wooden barriers, straining to see where shots land. Referees dressed in white keep score, stepping in with measuring tapes to settle disputes.

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