Sports and Life Lessons Collide at World Transplant Games

Brock and Connor recently returned from the 2013 World Transplant Games in South Africa

By Brock Marvin 

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

This is what I told myself every single day that I battled severe dilated cardiomyopathy. And the phrase stayed with me for the months after my eventual heart transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Transplant Program in 2010. I always had plenty of faith that there were happier, healthier days ahead; I just needed to work a little harder than most teenagers to get there.

But I wasn’t alone in the battle. Months after my transplant, my brother, Connor, was diagnosed with the same heart condition. Like me, he dealt with the disease and his eventual heart transplant with a positive and determined attitude. In a two-year span, we were both diagnosed with a serious heart condition, underwent heart transplant, and came out on top—healthier than ever.

To read more about the Marvin brothers’ back-to-back heart transplants, access their story here.

Now, I’m a starting goalkeeper for the men’s soccer program at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. Connor, now a senior at Matanzas High School, is starting on the varsity golf team. Since our transplants, our opportunities have been unlimited, and we’ve had so many successes in life thanks to the incredible gifts of life we both received at Boston Children’s. And while we’re thankful for every opportunity we have to simply enjoy a second shot at life, a recent trip to Durban, South Africa, stands out as the most surreal.

This past summer, Connor and I flew nearly 20 hours to participate in the largest sporting event for athletes who have received an organ transplant, the World Transplant Games.

The Games are a series of well-organized, extremely competitive competitions, held at beautiful stadiums and venues all over the city. Connor and I were members of Team USA’s Volleyball and Golf teams, and the opportunity to represent our country was nothing short of phenomenal.

Connor and I have always loved the camaraderie and competition of sports, but the Games put them in a whole new light. Getting to meet thousands of people thriving after all kinds of organ transplants was amazing. Everyone playing in the games had a common bond, whether or not you knew them personally. And it wasn’t just that we all took anti-rejection medication or knew what it was like to live on hospital food for weeks at a time; it was the understanding that for many of us being alive, never mind competing athletically, was almost a miracle.

Through modern medicine, talented doctors and nurses and some good luck, everyone at the Games had a detailed, emotional story that led them there. It was emotional and inexpressible to hear others’ stories about their gifts of life—unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced. It’s a connection that is amazingly rare and one I’ll treasure for life. Being with fellow transplant recipients was great, (as was competing against them,) but becoming close friends with hundreds of people almost instantly was the best part.

When I first learned that I would need a heart transplant, I thought my days of playing sports were over. Now, just three years later, I’m playing college soccer after nearly placing in all the World Transplant Games events I competed in—which pitted me against some of the hardest working athletes in the world. It’s hard to believe in such short amount of time I’ve gone from mourning the loss of sports to dreaming of a possible return trip to the 2015 World Transplant Games in Argentina.

It’s safe to say that I received more than a new heart from Boston Children’s; I have gained a true understanding that life is full of great opportunities if you’re willing to work for them—especially when you’ve got a great team backing you up!