In June 2016, Lifebanc held its Gift of Life Walk and Run alongside the Transplant Games of America in Cleveland, Ohio. I was a few months post-lung transplant and I felt strong enough to give back to the organ donation community. I enjoy planning events and parties, so it only seemed natural to create a fundraising team and recruit as many walk participants as I could.
I signed up as Team Kozstrong, then contacted people to participate and raise money. For about a month, my job was to spread the word, collect pledges, and design and distribute a team T-shirt. The response was incredible! Loads of family members, friends, and co-workers participated. I felt victorious. There was a lot of excitement for the event because it was in downtown Cleveland rather than the usual location outside of the city.
There was palpable anticipation the day of the walk. I woke up to a beautiful and sunny day, though it was very humid, and headed downtown to meet everyone. The energy at the race vibrated with pure joy, excitement, and camaraderie. Standing there to absorb the moment overwhelmed me. To think that Lifebanc and organ, eye, and tissue donation touched all of those many, many people. The area was a sea of different colored T-shirts representing all of the teams. People conversed with strangers by commenting on team shirts and learning the story behind them. We were all part of this club that we’d never imagined joining, but there we were, in comfort and support.
At a center stage, announcements were made while pictures ran across a giant screen. Vendors propped up tents all over the area, packed with freebies, information, refreshments, activities for kids, and lots of water! There was a lot to do before the walk’s beginning, plus plenty of time to take pictures and explore.
The Gift of Life Walk event has a Legacy Garden in which signs are posted to honor families and loved ones who chose to give the gift of life. I was emotional while walking through the gardens and appreciating the wonderful people who gave the ultimate gift: life.
Soon after the reflective stroll, it was time for the walk and run. Although it was a slow walk, I finished. I was there at the finish line for the team members who did the longer run. Afterward, I hosted everyone at a neighborhood bar and grill to have lunch and celebrate. Love, laughter, and friendship filled that perfect day.
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