Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Greg!

My name is Greg.  My wife and I live in Bend, Oregon for nearly 28 years now.  I grew up in Lewiston, Idaho.  Was never really athletic although I took part in some sports on a very low level.  Never really good at anything sports related.

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I was always interested, as a skinny young guy, in weight lifting and gaining muscle mass.  So I started this work at a young age (11-12) and in college took a weight lifting class as a filler, and then became more and more passionate about the gains I was making and the changes I was noticing.

In my early 30s I became interested in bodybuilding and started working with pretty high intensity on that, and soon signed up for my first of several regional “Natural” bodybuilding contests.  I was encouraged to use some anabolic steroids and HGH but was definitely not interested in doing that.  It was simply a way for me to measure my gains and put them on display.  After a half dozen or so contests, I won 1st and overall at a regional natural bodybuilding contest and then was told that in order to advance any farther, I would need to start using chemical assistance for my gains and growth.  That was my last contest and pretty much the time to start looking for something else to feed my need to be active and constantly improving, physically.

I worked on the side as a personal trainer for a few years after becoming certified as such.

I started leading indoor cycling classes at a local athletic club almost at the same time that I purchased my first real road bike AND signed up for a week-long 500-mile group cycling event.  I was also being nudged toward doing something other than heavy weight lifting because of some chronic back pain issues I was experiencing.  I did start running short distances and entered a couple of local Olympic distance duathlons.  I loved it.  Although a 240 lb cyclist/runner is a bit unusual, I really felt I was getting into something I loved.  I did see the need to drop some weight though, and as my good friend and I planned and trained for a bicycle trip to his vacation home about 250 miles away, I started seeing the weight come off quickly, and by the time we finished that trip through rain, snow, sleet, wind, I was at 212 lbs.

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I remember that one evening at the athletic club, I finished leading an indoor cycling class and was showered and sitting in the steam room.  A local life-long champion Ironman triathlete (Lou Hollander) at 80 years old was sitting beside me.  He asked about my work-out that evening, which prompted discussion about my new found love for the duathlon sport.  He quickly asked, “what’s keeping you from doing triathlon?”  I told him I was a very poor swimmer.  He said, “well, there’s a pool right through that door.  Go learn.”

I put on my running shorts and went to the 25-yard indoor pool and swam exactly 2 laps and was out of breath.  I went again the next night and the next and added a lap each night until I was swimming 500 yards in a session.  I knew that for an Olympic distance event I would need to swim 1500 M and still be able to do the bike and run.

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Over a few years, I participated and enjoyed some Olympic distance triathlon events.  A good friend signed up for her first full Ironman triathlon, and we decided to travel to Penticton BC to cheer her on.  After she finished I remember telling her that this was amazing to me, but I didn’t see myself ever doing such a thing, as it seemed like an impossible feat to me.

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The Ironman event kept tugging at my mind and started to dominate my thoughts and aspirations.  I told some friends that I would spend the next summer training for and competing in 2 half Ironman events, and IF I was able to do these with some level of satisfaction, I would sign up for Ironman Canada the following year.

greg iM canada 2012[1586]

2012 I hired an amazing coach, trained very hard and finished Ironman Canada in 11 hours 59 minutes.  I raced that day at 186 lbs, raced with a few good friends that had trained with me for about a year, and finished under 12 hours, which I felt was remarkable.  I felt exhausted but good as I finished.  It was so satisfying and so exhilarating that I decided to do IM Canada in Whistler in 2016.  Between those big events, I trained hard and enjoyed many ½ Ironman race events.  Ironman 70.3 (1/2 Ironman) is much easier to manage training and normal life at the same time.  When I trained for full Ironman, my wife referred to herself as an “Iron-Widow”, which is sort of true.

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A friend and IronMan coach Mike Larsen of Larsen Performance Coaching

My wife of (now) about 28 years has polycystic kidney and liver disease.  Her Dad had it and had a cadaver transplant in about 1990 or 91, her Brother had PKD and had a transplant from a cousin about 4 years previous to hers.  We watched for years as her kidney function slowly but surely deteriorated.  Her liver cyst growth became physically obvious several years ago as her abdomen became hard and distended.  For 3 years she flew monthly to Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN to participate in a clinical trial of a drug that was a hopeful intervention for Polycystic LIVER disease.  They made it clear that the kidneys would likely not be aided by this treatment.  As it turned out, the liver cyst growth was only slowed slightly during this 3-year trial.

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We knew we needed to plan for someday when the kidneys would fail and started visiting the specialists at OHSU in Portland OR.

We were told that the liver would likely never fail, but would continue to grow and take up space, and the kidneys were certainly on their way to failure.

Time is a blur now, but shortly after completing my 2nd Ironman Canada event, we started going to OHSU more frequently, planning and training for the upcoming kidney transplant for which I was being tested as a hopeful donor.  I was actually the only one being tested, and somehow we felt sure that this was going to go well, even though the transplant team told us there was only a 2-3 percent chance I would be an adequate match.  As it turned out, I was a pretty good match, and we planned our surgery date and rented a house in Portland, 3 ½ hours from our home in Bend.  (She would have to stay there for a month after being released from the hospital).  Her mother made plans to stay with her there after I returned home post surgery.

Before our surgery date, I trained (indoors because it was winter) like I was training to compete in an Ironman 70.3  (1/2).

Greg And Daniel 2

I wanted to be in the very best condition possible before surgery, believing that this would help my recovery and get me back in race condition sooner.  I set a goal well ahead of this to be ready and racing in a tough local ½ Ironman distance event in late June.  Surgery was January 24.

Vineman Tri

Surgery went well, and I remember feeling pretty at ease as I was being prepped for going into the OR.  (for some reason).  My first memory post op was being transferred onto a bed in a room where I would spend a couple of nights before my release.  There was plenty of pain associated with the initial recovery.  Not horrible, but significant.  I kept asking myself how this compared to the toughest moments during Ironman.  They are too different to compare, but I did figure that if I could do that, I could do this.

post surgery

I remember realizing about day 2 that I was going to be recovering for a long time, although I had been informed of this thoroughly beforehand.  I spent a couple of days at the rental house down the hill from the hospital.  The surgeon had been very clear that I should NOT exert myself for several weeks and to be aware of discomfort around the surgical area.  I was certainly diligent in that since I did NOT want to have to go through another surgery to repair a herniation.  I went for a couple of short walks in the rain while in Portland, and wore my Garmin and carried my phone so I could track my distance, and call for help if needed.

My son and his wife picked me up a few days after surgery to go home.  It was great to finally be back home, and the dogs were relieved of their puppy sitter, and my son and his wife brought food over now and then, and he would come over after work to keep me company at times.  During the day (winter and snowy), I went for little walks.  We live 10 miles out of town on 10 acres, and I went for little walks on our property, then wore my Garmin about day 2 or 3 at home and headed out on “whatever I could do”.  I got exactly one mile down the road and decided I was out of breath and needed to head back.  Part way back home I realized I had bitten off too much too soon.  This was about 1 week after surgery.

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I had a call from the transplant coordinator and told her how exhausting that 2-mile walk had been, and she tried to be understanding but started chuckling about my obvious impatience.

I had just purchased a new “smart trainer” for my bike around Christmas so I would be able to do some virtual rides to entertain myself during the boredom of recovering alone at home.  (I had told the coordinators that I’d have people at home taking care of me but it really wasn’t necessary at all, even though they had insisted on it).  I spent about 15 minutes on a nearly zero effort spin for my first couple of days on the trainer.  I wondered HOW this could suddenly be so difficult.  I did remember though, the surgeon explained to me how the body has to spend all of its energy healing from a surgery like that.  It just takes time and (sigh) patience.

Each day I set a goal to increase my time until I was on the bike at least 30 minutes.  Then a friend started “virtual riding” with me.  We could see each other on the TV screen and I know he was going very easy on me so I wouldn’t feel bad about my sloooowwww performance.

Mackenzie

It really seemed like forever at that time, but honestly, I think it was about 2-3 weeks and I was making power related goals instead of time-related goals on the trainer.  Longer more vigorous walks led to eventual light jogging thrown in with the walks.  (only after surgeon permission).  At about 2-3 weeks, I had a re-visit scheduled with the staff at OHSU.  I was told by the transplant coordinators to have someone drive me the 3 ½ hours to Portland and back.  Uh huh…

I loaded up the little dogs and a small suitcase in my truck and drove to Portland.  I have to say I was excited to see my wife (now staying in the rental house) and she was excited to see the dogs.  She was having some struggles recovering, but overall doing quite well.

I stayed for a few days and we walked very short walks together in the rain or between rain storms.  I loaded up the dogs and went back home.

By this time I was feeling quite a bit better and getting more and more impatient to get some real training going.  I was still off work by physician order, so just had plenty of time to get impatient about when I could do what.  I think it was at 6 weeks I was told I could start running a little bit, so at 6 weeks I did.  It hurt a little bit, but it felt so good.  I was getting longer and stronger bike sessions indoors.

Greg and stac 2012

I went to pick my wife up in Portland after a solid month there.  She was soooo anxious to get home, and I am sure her mom was too.

Life got back to pretty normal, and I gently increased my training levels and signed up for the WHY Racing “Pacific Crest Long Course” triathlon in June.  Race day was exactly 5 months after surgery.  Race day went well, although I felt slower than usual in my own mind, and as it turned out I was 30 minutes slower than I had been 2 years prior.  I did place 2nd in my age group (55-59) and felt good about that.  The following spring I went to St George Utah and did the Ironman 70.3 there.  I was about 30 minutes slower than I had been in 2014 (4 years earlier) and was discouraged by that.  It was a hot day, and I cramped way more than anticipated.  If I was honest with myself, I did not train as hard as I had in 2014, and I had started having some difficulty with patellar tendonitis and likely some arthritis in the knees.  So…excuses.  🙂

GS and Chris Horner - Gran Fondo
Greg with Chris Horner

I had a few versions of flu all last winter, and felt tired and sick for much of the winter, even though I had a flu shot.

Anyway, still trying to improve and get back to the level I had raced a few years ago, I am starting to realize that age DOES play a part in my mild decline in performance, and things do wear out a bit over time.

I did log over 8000 miles cycling and running last summer just mostly recreational.

I have started getting acupuncture treatments monthly, as I used to a couple of years ago.  The acupuncture is improving some inflammation pain issues as well as immune system and energy levels and endurance.  My acupuncturist claims that all of these are partially dependent on solid kidney function, which she is treating with acupuncture.  My kidney function has been “good”, but creatinine levels kept hovering at 1.3 and they used to be at 1.0 consistently.

I do plan to enter a couple of ½ Ironman events this coming summer.  The knees are not really behaving well, but I try to ignore that as much as I can.

I have a goal in the back of my mind that I really hope to manage to be able to work toward.  I’d like to train for an Ironman even when I age up (to 60 years old) and qualify for Kona Ironman (world championship). 

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I’m sticking with the monthly acupuncture treatments, training hard, working on strength over the winter, doing some tough indoor bike sessions where I feel I’m improving now.

So far I have been 100% well this winter, gaining strength and about to start some occasional endurance training.

I am quite certain that I am no less capable of anything since donating a kidney.  Any performance degradation is the result of aging, arthritis, and lower training intensity.  Harsh realities of life.  🙂

I am very mindful of my water intake to avoid dehydration.  I eat generally healthy and am mindful of having low sodium intake, which everybody should be.

My wife is able to live a normal life and feel generally healthy and well now.  The exception is that her liver is large and feels uncomfortable and likely the cause of other issues like digestion difficulties, acid reflux, diminished lung volume due to liver volume, etc.  We are discussing a liver resection some day in the future to remove large cystic growth and allow volume for normal digestive and lung functions again.

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It is great to know that I was able to play a part in improving her life and keeping her from living with a dialysis machine nearby.

Greg

 

 

 

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