World Transplant Olympics 2015, Argentina, Secondary Choice { 37 images } Created 18 Nov 2015

With focused concentration, Leslie Meigs, 25, fixes her aim on the small wooden jack at the end of the pitch. Though less than 15 meters away, the jack—30mm in diameter—is inaccessible, blocked by the palm-sized metal balls, known as boules, of her Iranian opponent. To win she must land her boules closer to the jack than her opponent, and with just one shot left, Meigs, an American, is losing.

The match is one of ten happening simultaneously in the giant cinder block warehouse.
Next to each sand court spectators, teammates, and medical staff lean over wooden barriers, straining to see where shots land. Referees dressed in white keep score, stepping in with measuring tapes to settle disputes.

Meigs’ last chance is to knock her opponent’s boules out of position. She is methodical, like a tennis player preparing to serve, with movements that are practiced and smoothly executed. She stands up straight, cupping the metal sphere in both hands. With her heels locked together, she bends her knees while drawing the boule back with her right hand. She brings her arm forward—wrist leading so that she releases with backspin, her legs stay bent to provide balance and control. Meigs’ shot drops a few inches short and roles to a stop, without disrupting the arrangement.

She congratulates her opponent. They shake hands, take photos together, and make jokes as supporters join them on the pitch. Leslie’s blue USA shirt and track pants conceal areas of deep scaring—the lasting mark of Bacterial Meningitis and septic shock that rotted much of her flesh as a child. After a month long, drugged induced coma, she narrowly escaped amputation, and everything but her kidneys began to function again. Six years ago she received a kidney transplant, and now represents the USA at the World Transplant Games, a global competition for organ transplant recipients and their donors.

In late August nearly 2000 athletes from seventy countries gathered in Mar del Plata, Argentina for the Games. Held every two years in different cities around the world, the Games include a broad fourteen sports, including swimming, track & field, tennis, table tennis, volleyball, badminton, bowling, and squash.

Teams are organized by country, with athletes sponsored by local hospitals and organizations, or paying their own way. In order to be eligible, countries must establish a formal association that hosts domestic sporting events for transplant recipients. Athletes are then selected based on athletic achievement, their history as a transplant recipient, their current medical and physical ability, and finance. Considering these various requirements limits potential athletes to a hand-full per country.

Every athlete has a unique story of illness, —and ongoing medical complications—associated with maintaining transplantation and organ functionality. The Games offer accessible competition, and a fellowship of people all dealing with invisible disability.
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