Aiken native competes, medals in Australia at World Transplant Games

May 8—Traveling halfway around the world to compete for herself and connect with other transplant patients from around the globe, Aiken native Lauren Jennings competed in the World Transplant Games .

Jennings, a three-time kidney transplant recipient, represented Team Georgia in the 2023 World Transplant Games in Perth, Australia. She competed in two events while down under — golf and the speed walking road race. She earned a silver medal in the speed walking road race.

"It was my first time, I was impressed by that. I was so excited but I finished with a time of 22:06 seconds for a 3K, for somebody that is pretty short, that's not too bad..." she said. "I was hoping not to get last place, so I was tickled that I came in 18th overall."

Jennings received her first and second kidney transplants as a child in 1999. After years of success, she later had to be put on dialysis. She received a call in May 2020 to receive a third kidney transplant.

The road to Perth was not easy for Jennings. After competing and medaling at the U.S. Transplant Games in July 2022, she faced health questions regarding her hemoglobin levels but was later cleared to compete.

Jennings made the trip to Australia and was happy to showcase her independence and be among and similar individuals .

"I think it has been part of my healing and has been connecting with other people that have been through similar — and some of the same — circumstances that I have been through and it has changed my perspective in how I view my situation," Jennings said. "Going to these games, I don't have to explain myself. They get it... It is just a whole different vibe and I think they just seem more appreciative and it's a second chance, third chance."

Tracy Ide, a public affairs manager with Life Link Foundation, a nonprofit that works to educate the public about organ donation and transplantation, said events like the World Transplant Games provide a community.

"It is so important for them to see that transplantation works and that people can live a normal life," Ide said.

Some of those who participate were at death's door and are now doing these athletic events, Ide said. It also helps the patients because they are around other people who have gone through similar things and allows them to connect with people who have similar stories.

Transplant Games participants also participate in special events to honor donor families, Ide said.

LifeLink of Georgia additionally serves Aiken and Edgefield counties in South Carolina. According to Ide, almost 5,000 people are on transplant lists in Georgia and South Carolina. She encourages people to make informed decisions about organ donation.

"The best way is for people to go to our website," Ide said. " It's a personal decision donation is, but we want people to have an informed decision when they make it. We want them to have the correct facts and there's a lot of misinformation out there."

"Even though I haven't exactly had an easy life, I don't think I've ever appreciated what I do have, and I think that you can go and meet with other people and hear their stories, it kind of is a healing thing for me," Jennings said. "It's about going out and being with people who are going through what I am going through and get it."

"It's just getting out there and taking risks and taking a chance and because it's scary," Jennings said. "I had to make sure that I got to my different events and places by myself and I felt very safe. I come from little ole Aiken and take on Australia."

Samantha Winn covers the cities of North Augusta and Augusta, with a focus on community oriented business and events. Follow her on Twitter: @samanthamwinn and on Facebook and Instagram: @swinnnews.