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Transplant Games of America


The bright blue sky makes it hard to distinguish the path of a small, white golf ball, but liver recipient Steve Whitehead watches attentively until he sees the ball bounce onto the green in the distance. Steve and his teammate, Jim Manning, hop into their golf cart and speed off to complete the hole.

Jim and Steve have something more in common than a love for golf. They are both liver recipients, and are competing in Transplant Games of America with every swing. After 18 holes, Transplant Team Arizona competitors pull up at the clubhouse and await the results of their game. The process of displaying points is traditionally done by hand in calligraphy, so the players pass the time by chatting with other teams.

Everyone here has a story and most have a transplant journey to share. Steve and Jim have both attended the games since 2004, though Steve missed the games in 2012 because of his second transplant.

A Growing Community

Every other year, hundreds of transplant recipients and living donors compete in 21 different sports and activities as part of Transplant Games of America. Donor families and supporters of organ, cornea and tissue donation can also attend to cheer on the athletes. The 2018 Transplant Games took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, from August 2-8. This year 40 teams attended, including international teams from Australia, Brazil and India.

Competitors at the games truly represent the entire transplant community. From the youngest at 3 years old, to the oldest at 89, there is a sport for everyone. One of the youngest competitors, 3-year-old Daisy from Transplant Team Arizona, showed off her skills in the Youth Olympiad, cornhole and track and field events. Thanks to her heart transplant, Daisy can run, play and earn medals for her team.

Daisy isn’t the only one who earned medals this year. As the tallying wraps up, it becomes clear that Steve and Jim have placed first in their age group. None of the Transplant Team Arizona competitors would be here today without the generosity of their donors who gave them a second chance at life.

“It’s about honoring your donor, not about the medal count,” Steve says. “It’s about taking time to appreciate the moment and spend time around people who know what you’ve been through.”

Jim Manning (l top) with Steve Whitehead (r top) as they placed first in golf for their age group.

Breaking A Record

On the final day of the Transplant Games, competitors gathered to make one more powerful statement in honor of their donors. Recipients stood together and held up signs with the type of transplant they received. They cheered as they broke the previous Guinness World Record for largest gathering of organ transplant recipients. The number to beat is now 540 people.

Transplant Team Arizona made the journey home with 41 medals and, more importantly, a renewed sense of community. To view more photos from the games, click here and here.

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