I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete. I didn’t even start hiking until my mid-20’s and if you’ve been to Colorado, you understand the blasphemy in that statement. On top of that, I lived in Boulder so I was just wasting the clean mountain air and not earning my Bouldertite card. Fortunately, I became active before anyone discovered me.
It’s funny how I stumbled into exercise. I was on vacation with some pals and noticed I didn’t have a headache. Sounds strange, I know, but that’s what happened. I’d had a headache every day for years so it was very noticeable when I didn’t have one. I was tired of taking meds each day and, when I returned from vacation, I went in to see the doctor. We tried several interventions and what got rid of my headaches was exercise.
I love to try new things and get better at them so I’ve tried all sorts of types of exercise. I’ve tried hiking, running, spin class, kickboxing, skiing, CrossFit, kettlebell, weight lifting, yoga, and countless other activities. I’ve completed every single Tony Horton P90x workout in its entirety at least once. I even became a certified yoga teacher. I like the novelty of the latest fad but end up growing tired of it eventually. There is only one exception that I always come back to… yoga.
In 2016, I was at an event called “Ignite” where speakers get up and give carefully timed 5-minute talks to an auto-advancing powerpoint presentation about their passions. A woman got up and gave a talk about her brother’s life being saved by a stranger who donated her kidney to him (https://youtu.be/yesMpEs0niI ). She talked about how many of us could “share our spare” and become heroes. In that moment, I knew I would donate. Admittedly, I was hardly a stranger to the idea of kidney donation. My own sister had saved our stepdads life 14 years prior by giving him her kidney. I loved telling people the story of my sister’s courageous act but never once considered it as an option for me. The next day I called UC Health and my journey began.
One of my main concerns about surgery was not doing yoga for eight weeks so I decided to get as strong as I could before surgery. For several months leading up to surgery, I did 200+ abdominal exercises every day and yoga several days a week. I also took up full contact kickboxing to give it a go since it’s not the number one choice of exercise when you only have one kidney. My abs were as strong as they’d ever been going into surgery.
It took over a year for the timing and testing to all come together and on 11/28/17 my left kidney was sent to a stranger in Texas to start a kidney chain. I was instantly aware of the importance of my abdominal muscles after mine were rendered useless post-surgery. That said, I’d like everyone reading this to take a moment of gratitude for your abs. They help you get up and move, cough, and they even help you open jars. No matter what shape we’re in, I bet most of us take these muscles for granted.
After my surgery, my favorite yoga teacher, the amazing Gina Caputo (@yoginiontheloose), sent me a book recommendation and reminded me that the physical practice of yoga is such a small part of what yoga is.
I had been given this opportunity to focus on how I take my yoga off the mat. I read the book “How Yoga Works” and delved deeper into the importance of training my mind and breathe, not just my body. Many lessons from this time stick out and this was one of them. “If we do something just to help ourselves, it will never work. You can never really put effort into a thing if it’s only for yourself. It has to be for something bigger.” All aspects of my yoga practice affect the people and things around me but, most of all, the practice of mindfulness. That said, I still counted the days until I was able to get back to my mat.
Eight weeks later, I went to a “Full Throttle Yoga” class taught by another teacher I love (@fullthrottleyoga). His class had also been my last class prior to surgery. If you’ve never heard of Full Throttle Yoga, it’s one of the most hard core yoga workout classes you can go to. The badass instructor focuses on valuable lessons and building community while simultaneously playing rock music, swearing, and making you do about 30 chaturangas.
It’s quite a balancing act to make all of these things come together but Mark does it masterfully. Full Throttle yoga is usually done in a brewery so you can have a drink and get to know the other outlaw yogis after class. My first class back I had a familiar uncomfortable feeling and that sensation was not being very good at something. This is a feeling I love because one of my favorite things is to see progress and get better at something. I knew I would get there.
Now, over a year later, I practice yoga on the mat about five days a week and practice every day off it. My practice is stronger than it has ever been and all the prep I did prior to surgery helped me gain back my strength in a matter of months. Today, I’ve been a yogi for almost 15 years and practiced all over the world. No matter what physical activity comes and goes, yoga is always beckoning.
The benefits of donating my kidney are countless. The friendships I’ve found through the process are priceless and, by far, my favorite part of being a donor. There is an instant bond you feel when meeting another donor and I’ve connected with the most incredible people. I volunteer for several organizations to help raise awareness for living organ donation and one of my favorites was started by my kidney donor buddy Jen. It’s an organization that tells the stories of kidney donors from all walks of life called Rock1Kidney.org. With the support of my friends and fellow donors, I gave my own 5-minute Ignite talk and told my story, outlining how much donating a kidney has improved my life.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE TO KIDNEY DONOR ATHLETES TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION TO RAISE AWARENESS AND SHOW THRIVING EXAMPLES OF LIVING DONORS, PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING!
KIDNEY DONOR ATHLETES IS A REGISTERED 501(C)3