Competing at the World Transplant games, Britain’s transplant swim team once again set the standard in the pool, amassing a huge total of 141 medals and 33 world records in this year’s competition, building on their stellar showing from the last edition in 2017. Effectively the Olympic Games for athletes with organ and bone marrow transplants, every two years the games are held to demonstrate what is possible in life after transplantation. This year, the Games ‘came home’ with Newcastle Gateshead hosting the 22nd edition.
This year’s meet was the fastest ever, with 90 Transplant World Records broken across 10-year age groups akin to Masters swimming events. And there were some impressive performances on the clock; the 70-79 50m freestyle time was won in a blistering 32.12 by American David Landes, and the fastest women’s time in the 100m freestyle was Canada’s Jillian Best in a time of 1.05.93 – smashing the previous world record set 16 years ago by 2.85 seconds.
Get more on the GB transplant team in our podcast special
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland swimming team is made up of swimmers of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the UK, but with one thing in common – all have had lifesaving organ or bone marrow transplants. The team made the most of their home advantage by amassing 56 gold, 50 silver and 35 bronze medals and setting 33 new world records.
Jeremy Latham, head coach of the GB team says “I am immensely proud of our 62 swimmers. Every one of our swimmers trained so hard for these games. It’s tough enough to train for an international event, but it’s even more difficult for this team because they’re all on immunosuppressants, which means they’re very susceptible to picking up coughs, colds and infections, stopping them from training or worse, leading to hospitalisation”.
On her games debut, 11-year-old GB swimmer Ava Taylor won a clean sweep of golds in her 5 events, setting 4 new world records, while 17-year-old Paul Meikle came close to matching that feat with 4 golds and a silver, and a new World Record in the 100m backstroke.
Karen Rockell, a liver transplant recipient from Northampton, had a great Games too. She came away from Sunderland with 3 golds, 2 silvers and 3 World Records in the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 50m butterfly. Scottish swimmer Lewis Watt won gold in the 200m freestyle and bronze in the 400m freestyle. Lewis’ success was quite remarkable given that he has had his kidney (donated from his Mum) for less than a year, and as a former rower, Lewis was not from a swimming background learning to swim competitively specifically to compete at these games.
Other notable performances were from Jodie Cox and Nicole Mackenzie. Guildford City swimmer Jodie won 2 golds and 3 silvers, setting two new World Records in the 50m freestyle and 50m breaststroke while Portsmouth Northsea swimmer Nicole claimed 3 golds and 2 silvers setting a new World Record in the 18-29 years breaststroke in a time of 38.81.
The GB relay teams had some stiff competition. The Mixed 200+ 4×50 freestyle team of Mick Anson, Simon Randerson, Louise McNeill and Richard Percival won bronze behind strong teams from America and Australia.
However, the open women’s 4×50 freestyle and 4×50 medley relay teams both won gold. Indeed, the women’s medley quartet Beth Morris, Nicole Mackenzie, Kelly Young and Jodie Cox set a new World Record. Such is the depth of the GB swimming team, that the women’s second team won bronze on both relays too.
The GB men’s open relay teams were just as successful, winning golds in both and with the GB second team picking up bronze in the freestyle relay. In the 4×50 freestyle relay Declan Bennet, Lewis Watt, Matthew Burrows and Liam Barnett just edged out the American team in a thrilling finale to win gold and set a new Transplant World Record 1.46.88.
GB swimming manager and competitor Liam Barnett, who himself picked up a hatful of individual gold medals, is also the chairman of the new Transplant Sport Swimming Club. He says “The key now is to keep the momentum. Our transplant swimmers will be looking to enter more and more masters swimming events across the UK as the next World Games in Houston Texas are only 2 years away. Look out for us on a poolside near you with our pink T-shirts and pink swim caps”
These GB swimmers have been lucky as they received their transplant in time. Right now there are over 6,000 people waiting for an organ transplant across the UK. On average three people die every day in need of an organ transplant because there just aren’t enough organ donors. None of the transplant swimming team would have been able to achieve their incredible successes if it were not for organ donation and transplantation. If you would like to join the organ donor or bone marrow registers, please express your wishes to your loved ones and sign up at https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk or for bone marrow donation: https://www.anthonynolan.org/apply-join-bone-marrow-registe
Results from the World Transplant Games can be found here: