Kidney transplant recipient Rick Lilly held a sign reading, "One down. 80,000 to go," pleading for organ donors at the 2012 Transplant Games in Grand Rapids, Mich., in July.
Lilly and the 18 other Team Utah Idaho transplant athletes collectively received the most medals per capita and brought home the 3-foot-tall Team Cup.
"We're very proud to say that our transplant patients are the greatest athletes in the nation," said Willem Van der Werf, the chief of transplant surgery at Intermountain Medical Center, (IMC) at a Monday press event celebrating the win.
The cup will be displayed at Primary Children's Medical Center and the University of Utah before it is permanently placed at IMC in Murray.
Lilly competed to celebrate the life-saving kidney he received from his father at age 19, even though he discovered just before the games that the kidney was rapidly failing. He chose bowling for the team over staying home and sitting on his "tush," he said.
"It's just an amazing feeling, and it's so much fun to give back," Lilly said, who took home five medals. "When I compete I feel like I'm competing for my dad."
When Lilly returned from the games this year he went straight to an emergency room. He's now hospitalized awaiting another transplant, hopefully from one of his siblings, he said.
"If I don't get [a kidney transplant] I won't feel bad," he said. He's just grateful for the extra 14 years his father's donation gave him, he said, and wants to make sure his father knows that he's doing something special with his second chance at life.
This is Lilly's fifth games. He has competed in three U.S. and two international games in Sweden and Australia. He said he has placed his medals in shadow boxes and presented them to his father.
"It's fun for me," he said, but"it's something I do out of respect for him."
The other team members which include two donors helped rack up the team's total of 88 medals, and they are in excellent health.
Van der Werf operated on Steve Baldridge, 60, who received a gold medal for being a living donor. He also competed in table tennis at the games.
Baldridge donated his kidney to a neighbor in need. He's donated 168 times. Each donation of platelets takes about two hours to complete, which means his donations, added up, amount to 14 straight days of immobility with needles in his arms.
"I'm happy to do it, and I'll continue to do it as long as I can," Baldridge said, who has permanent scars in both arms from donating. "I'm fresh out of kidneys, but I can give platelets."
Sharon Miller, the Utah Idaho team's manager, said they were happy to win and it was exciting, but winning is not the reason they compete.
"Organ donation really does not keep up with the demand," Miller said. There are more than 124,000 people in the U.S., with more than 600 in Utah, waiting for a transplant, she said.
"The transplant games were started to give visibility to the miracle of organ and transplant donation," Miller said.
Mykel Ramsey, 20, who has received two kidney transplants, says that is why she competed.
"I am on 15 borrowed years of life and it's amazing to have the donor families that we have, and the donors that we have," she said. "It's really important for people to be donors because allâ¦ seventeen of us at one point were waiting for an organ."