‘Healthy rivalry’ responsible for sporty transplant couple’s success

Liz and Russ with their medals in Argentina
Liz and Russ with their medals in Argentina

A REMARKABLE pair of international athletes have opened up about their relationship and sporting successes.

Worthing-based Liz Hosford, 45, and Russ Walton, 43, met five years ago, competing at a high-profile athletics competition in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Liz said she has stayed ‘head over heels’ with Russ ever since.

The sporting event they were competing at was not a typical contest. It was the British Transplant Games – a national series of games inspired by the Olympics for organ transplant patients that takes place every two years.

At this year’s World Transplant Games in Argentina, the couple scooped four medals, adding to a combined total of over 150 medals won over the last twenty years.

An outstanding achievement for any athlete, but even more so for Liz and Russ, both with their kidney and heart transplants, respectively.

Liz said: “I’ve always been a bubbly, positive person; maximised every opportunity despite my condition which made me even more determined to live a fulfilled life.”

In February 1988, aged just 17, Liz contracted the disease Henoch Schonlein Purpura. Initially undiagnosed, the disease attacked her kidneys and immune system. As her health deteriorated she became depressed and run down.

Doctors were unable to treat her condition and her kidneys failed. But she received life-saving dialysis treatment, coinciding with her 19th birthday.

With a promising career in music ahead, the musical scholar could not fulfil her A-Levels and it appeared that her aspirations were over.

After a year of dialysis and waiting for a suitable kidney donor, Liz’s parents, desperate to help their daughter, stepped forward as potential donors.

Liz’s mum was able to make the life-saving kidney donation.

By 1991, just a year after her transplant, Liz discovered the British Transplant Games. After only one year of training with the GB Team, she was ready to compete at the 1993 games, in Vancouver, at Badminton, Swimming and Volleyball, and she’s competed globally at the games ever since.

In between, Liz had two children, Harriett, 13, and Heidi, 11, which she describes as her ‘two greatest achievements’.

By 2010 and approaching 40, an unhappy Liz faced the sad truth that her marriage wasn’t working.

She said; “I felt at my lowest ebb; my marriage was unhappy and had health worries. But ever the optimist, I focused on my daughters and my family. I thought, ‘they need me’.”

She became more determined than ever to re-address areas of her life – and she succeeded.

In the process, Liz met Russ, a competing athlete himself and heart transplant patient in 2000.

The competitive couple, who both use South Downs Leisure sports and fitness facilities, confess that healthy rivalry between them ‘ups’ each-others’ game.

Russ said: “The rivalry extends beyond the medal triumphs to comparing transplants, who’s suffered the worst or had the most horrific transplant or who spent the most time in hospital. It’s like transplant Top-Trumps.”

They also admit they are stronger and fitter than ever and intend to remain that way, thanks to active lives and regular training.

To find out more about organ donations or becoming a donor, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk, www.britishkidney-pa.co.uk and www.uhsm.nhs.uk

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