Grand Rapids, GV to host Transplant Games
Growing up, Grand Valley State University alumnus T.J. Maciak was an ordinary child — he loved to play sports. However, unlike most, he was diagnosed with kidney disease at a very young age and faced a much different road than the Olympians in London trying to earn a gold medal.
“I was diagnosed at the age of 10 with kidney disease when I failed a sports physical,” he said. “My kidneys worked until I was basically a senior in high school then I went on dialysis for two years. I received my transplant in January of 1996 while I was an undergrad at GVSU.”
Maciak received his transplant at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. Now 36, he is the Senior Programmer at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at GVSU. He is also the leading voice that kept the Transplant Games of America alive.The games were sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation from 1990 to 2010. But in May of 2011, an abrupt announcement from the Foundation ended the relationship, leaving the games hanging by a thread. “I heard about how they were going to be canceled last year and I wasn’t too happy about it,” Maciak said. “I was thinking that I may only be one person but I need to do everything I can that is possible to try and save the games.” To begin his hopeful journey of keeping the games alive, Maciak contacted Peter Secchia, a well-known businessman and philanthropist in Grand Rapids. Secchia heard his plea and helped him get in touch with the West Michigan Sports Commission, a non-profit organization with experience running multi-sport, Olympic style events. Eric Engelbarts, the events manager for the commission, met with Maciak last June and through their devotion to saving the games, GVSU, as well as downtown Grand Rapids, will play host to the 2012 Transplant Games of America from July 28 to 31. “With West Michigan and the volunteers that we have and that people that are so passionate about this particular topic, it definitely made moving an event that would normally take two years to 11 months a lot easier on our end,” Engelbarts said. Approximately 2,500 individuals will make the trip to Grand Rapids for the event, including transplant recipients, living donors, donor families and supporters in general. International athletes are welcome, but it is primarily North American teams that compose the games. “There are 38 U.S. teams,” said Bill Ryan, chairman of the games and a board member of the commission. “You can compete as an individual but most people don’t. They get help fundraising for their expenses by joining a team. There is an advantage for them to be a part of a team.” GVSU will play a huge role in the running of the games. “We are in the fieldhouse, using the arena, the recreation center and probably five or six other meeting spaces,” Engelbarts said. “From there we will be using the tennis courts, the track, and the pond behind Kirkhof. For cycling we use the campus to start and it loops around into the county and then comes back. We are using the Meadows for golf and we have people staying in the dorms as well.” As for Maciak, he not only helped bring the games to West Michigan, but he will also participate in the 5,000-meter run opening event downtown Grand Rapids, doubles bowling, basketball and volleyball — with hopes of winning that elusive gold medal.
“The support of Grand Valley and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been involved as much as I am,” Maciak said. “They have thrown their whole support behind me which has helped to bring this event to Grand Rapids.”