Running races and winning hearts

Running races and winning hearts

Running races and winning hearts
For an Olympic champion and world record holder, nothing can be more devastating than the news that you may never run again.

That Aries Merritt is up and running after being conveyed that news two years ago is a reflection of his great passion for the sport and his immense mental strength.

That Merritt won a World Championship bronze medal in his pet event, the 110M hurdles, four days before a kidney transplant, running his season’s best of 13.04 seconds with his kidneys functioning at just 20 percent of their normal level, is nothing short of incredible.

“I am so happy and feel so blessed to be here,” said Merritt after storming through to finish behind Sergey Schubenkov of Russia and Hansle Parchment of Jamaica in the final at the Bird’s Nest on Friday. His smile at the start line masked the pain of a man who had faced plenty in life. It also mirrored the spirit of a true fighter.

The American was at the prime of his career at London 2012 when he won the gold medal in 110M hurdles. He then set a world record of 12.80 seconds at the Brussels Diamond League. Everything was smooth and the world was his perfect playground. Then came the bad news.

Merritt began to struggle with his form in the 2013 season and after the World Championships in Moscow, where he finished sixth, he was diagnosed with a kidney disease, caused by a genetic disorder. Forced to spend seven months in hospital, the desire to run still burnt bright in him. He returned to the track but found it tough to follow his normal routine.

“I wanted to train but it was not possible to train the way I used to. I couldn’t do the repetitions that I had to, I couldn’t put in the rounds that was necessary,” he said.

Still, Merritt persisted. “I had to alter my training methods. I am not able to recover as a normal person. I am not able to eat protein as much as before. I am not able to process potassium, so no orange juice, no bananas... It has been a complete lifestyle change. I am about six pounds below my weight when I set the world record,” he revealed.

Braving the odds, Merritt came back in the 2014 season but his performances were far from impressive. He didn’t win a race but he was happy just to compete and complete the season. He continued his progress this year and made it to the US team by finishing third at the trials. In Beijing, the 30-year-old improved through the rounds to finally land a coveted medal.

“I have been operating for months with 20 percent kidney function. To make the final itself was a blessing. I feel like my bronze is a gold medal to be honest. Life has been a struggle and just being here shows that I have the heart of a champion.”

Once the transplant is over – his sister LaToya is the donor --  Merritt will be needed to show that heart again to return to the track. “I am very optimistic about my surgery.

Hopefully, you will see me in the outdoor season and I will be able to make the US team. I am assuming I will do the Olympic trials and that will determine whether you will see me in Rio. Hopefully, I will be there.”

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