Teen shines at Transplant Games | VailDaily.com

Teen shines at Transplant Games

Scott N. Miller
Preston Utley/Vail Daily Eric Rhoades of Gypsum holds a photo of himself at the Transplant Games in Minnesota. Rhoades won three gold medals, 25 meter freestyle swimming, shot put, and 15 meter dash.

GYPSUM – Most athletes fear drug tests. There’s one national competition, though, where all the competitors are on steroids: The U.S. Transplant Games.Eagle Valley High School freshman Eric Rhoades earned three gold medals in the 2004 games, held in at the University of Minnesota. Rhoades, 15, was among 1,500 participants ranging from toddlers to senior citizens who competed in events ranging from track to bowling to swimming. The only requirements for competition were getting to Minnesota and a scar from transplant surgery. Rhoades, who received a liver transplant four years ago, calls his scar his “shark bite.”Eric earned his medals in the field and the pool, winning his age group in the shot put and 50-meter dash, as well as in the 25-meter freestyle swimming event. He also swam on a couple of relay teams.Swimming comes easily for Rhoades, who was back in the pool at the Avon Recreation Center just a couple of weeks after leaving the hospital in August of 2000.

A few months after surgery, the steroids Rhoades was taking caused him to gain weight. His doctors recommended swimming as a low-impact way to stay in shape. The chlorine in the pool also helped keep his incisions clean, and the doctors’ work wouldn’t be jostled the way it would if Eric had taken up, say, jogging.Having taken swimming lessons at a young age, Rhoades took to the pool quickly. Training for the Transplant Games, Eric’s dad, David, found out how his son’s ability had progressed.”He was swimming ahead of me and kind of relaxed,” Eric said. “Then he saw I was right there. I’ll always remember the look on his face.”Rhoades’ success is a miracle to his family, but isn’t that unusual any more. Medical science made great strides since the first lung transplant in 1963. The point of the games is to show people living normal lives after their surgeries.

A handful of celebrities was on hand at the games to reinforce that notion, including actor Larry Hagman and former pro basketball player Sean Elliott, who played one season in the National Basketball Association after his kidney transplant. The games are also a chance for donor families and living donors to see just what their generosity represents.Like many transplant patients, Rhoades leads a mostly normal life. He has his medicine, of course, and he’ll be on some combination of medication the rest of his life. He also takes yearly trips to Children’s Hospital in Denver, and has his blood drawn – something he shudders to think about – at least every three months and sometimes more often.But those who don’t see the pills, or know about the trips to the hospital would see only a healthy, active teenager.”Most people don’t know until I give my ‘Tell us about yourself in one minute’ speech at the start of the year,” Rhoades said.

After that, though, the questions flow. Most are some variant of “Does it hurt?” The answer is, “No.” And, of course, some want to see the shark bite.With one successful Transplant Games under his belt, Rhoades is thinking about future competition. The Transplant Games are held every other year in different cities. The prospect of that seems intriguing. So does a chance to participate in the world version of the games.The competition at the world games will be pretty stiff, Rhoades said. But at least the playing field will be level: everyone will be on steroids.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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