Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Nichole!

What’s funny about sharing my story here is that athleticism is why I chose to donate in the first place.

Let me take a step back. I was randomly scrolling on Facebook about a year ago and came across a post about a boy who was my son’s age, third grade, and was super active with football, baseball, and basketball. He lived in a nearby small town. The only issue… his kidneys were failing and he needed help ASAP. All I could think about was “How would I tell my son that he couldn’t play sports anymore?” It was for that reason, I made the first call about becoming a living donor.  

At that time, I was doing something active most days. For starters, I have a 9, 6, and 2-year old. I’m also a first-grade teacher so I’m running around with 20-30 first graders each year. I had completed half marathons, just coming off of a PR in my annual 10-mile race (The Crim), and a couple of sprint triathlons. I was running probably 10-20 miles a week. We downhill skied constantly with our children (skiing with a toddler, omg). I was also doing barre or yoga classes 2-4 times a week.

I sincerely wish I had found this group before surgery.  I feel dumb saying this but… I wasn’t worried about dying during surgery; I was worried about my physical activity. To me, it sounded so terrible though… egocentric and focusing on the unimportant things. But I knew the odds. The odds were that surgery would be fine. The odds were much higher that donors go through a range of emotions, including depression post-surgery. Physical activity is so important too for many reasons: to know I’m keeping my body healthy, to help keep my mind healthy, and to be a better wife and mom. It adds to my confidence… “You are amazing! Look what your body can do!” And there are so many other amazing reasons why being athletic is important to me.  

Post-surgery went as expected. My recipient was out shooting hoops and I couldn’t even walk 50 yards. But then, I could walk farther. And a bit farther. I started going to chair yoga about three weeks after surgery. That was a perfect transition back because it offered me a ton of stability and support. I found myself around week six feeling so good that I wanted to add a bit of jogging to my daily walks or switch to a harder yoga class. Until I overdid it, at least with yoga.

Sharp abdominal pain started to come that hadn’t been there before. Running didn’t seem to hurt my core, but I grew fatigued much sooner than before. That’s when the what-ifs kicked in… what if I’m never going to be the same again! Everyone was treating me like a hero and I felt worthless. I didn’t give up, instead just reducing yoga entirely and doing what felt okay… really listening to my body. In retrospect, I wish I was kinder to myself. I started volunteering with my school’s cross country team and that really did help. I had a purpose. I loved playing the kidney card and telling them, “I legitimately just gave someone an organ two months ago… if I can run three miles, you can run it with me.” 

Then, sometime between months 3 and 4, things just switched. I am 7 months post-surgery at this time. I still haven’t taken barre classes yet but that’s more impart to Covid restrictions than fear. I’ve been practicing yoga, hiking and walking, running a couple of times a week, and skiing the Rockies with my family. If it wasn’t for the scar, you wouldn’t even know. I can’t wait for restrictions to lift so I can start signing up for races again. I’m so proud of myself for making it through the challenging parts. Now nothing is stopping both my recipient and myself from living our best lives.  

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