"I'm just an example of how age doesn't really matter that much" - The remarkable story of Ron Grainger

Irish transplant athlete recently won four gold medals at the European Games at the age of 66

On November 5th in Chicago, the Ireland rugby team will try to manage an almighty achievement by attempting to defeat New Zealand in an international test match.

But there will also be recognition for another impressive achievement at Soldier Field.

Ron Grainger has recently been selected as the Irish ambassador for the Fit For Life! initiative and will be recognised at half-time.

The 66-year-old kidney transplant athlete recently won four gold medals and one bronze at the European Transplant and Dialysis Games in Vantaa, Finland.

Before Saturday's match in Chicago, he spoke to Newstalk.com about his story and the initiative.

"The campaign is being organised by the World Transplant Games Federation. They got a call from ambassadors for the Fit For Life! programme, which is really designed to encourage people who have been recipients of transplants to stay fit, take exercise and compete in Games in order to preserve the life of their transplant and just generally to give them a better standard of health," he told me. 

Grainger has done more than just compete as well, showing age is no barrier to athletic achievement by taking part in golf, 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump, ball throw and the 4x100 metres in Vantaa - all of which yielded that aforementioned haul of five medals.

"I'm just an example of how age doesn't really matter that much," he said.

"You can be fit in your mid-to-late '60s, just as you can in your mid-to-late '20s." 

Indeed, Grainger had not taken part in running events for just shy of half a century before enjoying major success at the European Transplant and Diaylsis Games.

"I had competed in the previous European Games in golf and the 5 kilometre race walk - and I'd never walked competitively before either. So all through those years, it was basically just walking during my working day, not using lifts, using stairs. I was on my feet a lot at work and then playing golf," he said.

What has made all this possible was his receipt of a kidney transplant at the age of 53 and it transformed his life, having previously been diagnosed with an inherited degenerative kidney disorder at the age of 32.

"The main thing was the fatigue," he explained of the pre-transplant period.

"With chronic renal failure comes anaemia. So you're constantly tired. Also you're nauseated quite a bit of the time, so just feeling generally lousy. But I was determined that my illness wasn't going to define me and during the run-up to end stage renal failure where I started on dialysis, I was still trying to do a full day's work and I was a consultant urologist in Tallaght and St James, so I was trying to do a full job in both those places.

"Then with the transplant, it's just transforming. It's such a gift of life. It's just wonderful."  

But on November 5th, his sense of pride will also be channelled into gratefulness towards those who have donated organs to those in need.

"We have a new lease of life literally as a result of their fantastic gift to us. That's what I'm so proud of and so grateful for." 

"Fit for Life! Is proudly supported by Astellas Pharma Inc, aiming to inspire all transplant recipents to lead healthy and active lives post - transplant. For more information about Fit for Life! or the World Transplant Games Federation visit wtgf.org."