Cochrane resident Michelle Hounslow has returned home this week from Australia with a fistful of medals from the World Transplant Games.
She won silvers in 200m freestyle and 50m breaststroke and bronze in 100m freestyle, 50m freestyle, and 100m breaststroke, equalling the number she earned at the 2019 games hosted in Great Britain.
Michelle trained hard for the games and placed expectations upon herself to bring home medals after her success in Newcastle.
"On the first day of swimming, I had to remind myself that I had put in the work and I couldn't do anything more at that point and I should just spend the time having fun swimming with these people, and just try to do my own personal best. And then the swimming happened, and I came out of it with even some medals I hadn't expected. So that was a nice surprise."
One of those surprises was a bronze in the 50m freestyle where there was a group of four or five swimmers in a close race for silver and bronze. She won bronze.
"It was a pretty tight competition, and sometimes when you get in that situation, little tricks come out and you end up surprising yourself and going a little bit faster than you had hoped or had swam recently. The 50m freestyle was definitely one that made me nervous and gave me a little bit more of a challenge."
Still, there were things that held even greater meaning to Michelle at the games.
"I'm definitely proud of these accomplishments, but making friendships and developing connections with people from around the world, sharing the pool with people, and having that experience with people who have gone through something similar is a feeling I can't quite describe."
She says she was left with the same core feeling from the 2019 games of having the opportunity to be with inspiring people and enjoyed learning their stories.
"My 8-year-old daughter (Sydney) was there with me and she asked why when I met somebody I always asked where they're from, what transplant they had, and how long ago it was. It's just the thing that brings us together, and learning about not only those small details but what they went through as an individual, is something that is important to me to know who they are and how they got there."
Michelle was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at a young age and had three decades of dealing with health issues. In 2018, she had a kidney transplant that changed her life. She swam in a few competitive swim meets at a young age but her health prevented her from continuing. Swimming, though, always remained a passion.
In Perth, she was able to reconnect with transplant recipients she met four years previous as well as create new friendships.
"At the previous games, I met a man from France named Michele who had a kidney transplant 41 years ago, It was amazing to come across somebody who has had a kidney for that long, or a heart transplant recipient who has had their heart for 20-plus years. It gives you a little bit more hope for the future when transplants aren't viewed as a cure, but as a treatment, and you never know what might come about for you during the transplant experience.
"There were many people that I had met previously who hadn't been able to come to these games this time because of rejecting their kidneys or their various organs or dealing with illnesses or dealing with the long-term outcomes of our immunosuppression. So you never know what can come from a transplant experience.
"That gives you a new perspective about how to appreciate what's happened for you and the health that you have currently that allows you to travel across the world to compete in the games like this."
The games offered several social opportunities. Pins were traded, mementos exchanged, and events like a cultural evening, and opening and closing ceremonies helped to bring people together.
"The most meaningful and emotional moment for me out of the whole week was when the living donors and donor family members entered the Optus Stadium in Perth to finish out the Parade of Nations and start the opening ceremonies. They walked into the stadium to a live, world-premiere of the song, “Because of You” by Rose Parker, who wrote it in honour of her brother who passed away and became an organ donor.
"Every person who decided to become an organ donor made these games possible."
They also allowed her daughter to become reacquainted with some of the team members and make new friends.
"Team Canada was really amazing to us and really embraced Sydney as part of the team. She made plenty of friends, and she spent time with a lot of adult competitors and supporters from Canada. They took her in and cared for her as one of their own kids or grandkids."
Michelle is a member of the Cochrane Masters Club and intends to return to the pool sometime this week.
"They're a wonderful organization that offers lots of options for swim times and are just a great group of people."
She's already set her sights on the next world games in two years' time.
"I absolutely hope to continue to go to as many games as I possibly can. Health and life and financial circumstances willing, I will be in Germany in two years."
Fourteen Canadians were among the 1,500 competitors in the games.