Inspiring stories and world-class competition

July 20, 2019

NewcastleGateshead has forged a reputation for delivering elite competition to a global audience but hosting this summer’s World Transplant Games could be Tyneside’s biggest sporting success yet. Simon Rushworth reports

Later this summer, in front of a partisan crowd at Gateshead International Stadium, local hero Ryan Dobinson will go head-to- head with his Hungarian rival in what is widely tipped to be one of the most keenly contested javelin competitions in the history of the World Transplant Games.

Thousands of eyes will be fixed on the 24-year-old from North Tyneside as he seeks to throw further than ever before in his brave bid to clinch gold for Team GB.

“An Australian holds the record,” explains Ryan. “But it’s in my sights.”

Just nine years ago Ryan could barely muster the energy to get out of bed, let alone train twice a week and travel the globe competing in myriad field events. In 2010 he was weak, worried and fearing the worst as his under-developed kidneys struggled to cope with a fast changing body. Placed on the transplant waiting list, and his health failing fast, Ryan was told he had a one in 20,000 chance of finding a perfect match.

“Ryan was diagnosed with kidney problems before he was born,” continues mum, Gill Childs. “It was confirmed at 32 weeks that my baby wasn’t growing as expected. Further investigations revealed that his kidneys hadn’t formed properly. Prior to hitting puberty, he coped quite well but we knew what was coming. Given the odds against finding a match I offered to donate one of my kidneys. I’m his mum. What else could I do?”

Gill will join those fans packed inside Gateshead

International Stadium willing her son to win when the javelin competition gets underway. But only if time allows. August’s World Transplant Games sees the education provider captain Team GB’s Live Donor team and the keen distance runner has her own uncompromising schedule to contend with. Representing her country on the track and in the pool – at Sunderland’s magnificent Aquatic Centre – Gill’s journey to the international stage is a triumph in itself.

“Following the kidney donation I was off work for six months,” she recalls. “I don’t mind admitting that I suffered from a little bit of depression. It was difficult. I was trying to look after myself, look after Ryan and look at returning to work. My recovery wasn’t easy. But the World Transplant Games is a golden opportunity to demonstrate that donations do work and they can help very poorly people live happy and healthy lives. They can survive and they can thrive.”

In excess of 2500 competitors from more than 60 countries – aged from four to 84 – will support Gill’s claim with pride and enthusiasm as NewcastleGateshead builds on its experience as host of the 2015 British Transplant Games to deliver the latest in a long line of global sporting events. And for Team GB’s manager, Lynn Holt, welcoming the world to Tyneside this summer has special significance.

“I moved to the Freeman Hospital 33 years ago to help to set up the heart transplant programme,” explains the driving force behind a 330-plus British team of transplant patients and live donors.

“The North East has been my home ever since. I was appointed as the first clinical transplant co-ordinator in the UK when I moved to Newcastle.

“The surgeon at the time wanted me to be the contact for the patient from the point of referral, through the operation and post-transplant. That was my role until I took early retirement four years ago. The plan was to spend more time with my family but my work with the World Transplant Games and Team GB means I’m busier than ever!”

If Lynn’s primary aim is to guide the British squad through eight days of intense competition – her first overseas games as team manager was in Sydney 22 years ago – then the adopted Geordie has agreed

to an equally significant role at her ‘hometown’ games. “I have a position with NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) as the international team liaison,” she explains. “I’m communicating with more than 60 team managers from around the world and ensuring that they make the most out of their visit to the North East.

“I managed to squeeze three Mongolians into the event at the last minute after they finally got their funding through. The friendly rivalry with the other nations is what I love. I’ve had the Ethiopian team manager get in touch with me a few times telling me that their team is coming over here to win! I reply ‘bring it on!’.”

Lynn, like Gill and Ryan, agrees that bringing the World Transplant Games to the North East presents a unique opportunity to showcase the region to a truly global audience for a sustained period of time. The majority of the competitors, their family and friends are staying on Tyneside for more than a week and a series of social events have been planned to run alongside the daily competition.

“I live in Gosforth and I’m absolutely thrilled that the games are coming to Newcastle and Gateshead,” adds Lynn. “Tyneside has a reputation as a centre of excellence for transplants due to the Freeman Hospital but it’s more than that – I know that the North East will put on a really good show.

“I’m so proud to be able to showcase this wonderful part of the country and I’m looking forward to taking our international visitors to the most beautiful parts of our amazing region.

“It’s a chance to celebrate the culture, heritage and history of the North East.

“In terms of facilities and infrastructure it’s second to none and we don’t have to worry about the traffic problems that can occur in London. We’re a stone’s throw from rolling countryside and idyllic coastline and we have the experience of organising national events here. There are people here who understand the transplant games on a national level and that experience and expertise will ensure a successful international event.”

Experience and expertise is everywhere you look when examining the identity of the key players charged with delivering the region’s latest global gathering. Chief among them is the chairman of the 2019 World Transplant Games.

Graham Wylie requires little introduction as one of North East’s foremost businessmen, philanthropists and supporters of numerous charitable causes. The natural choice to lead a team of dedicated volunteers, his journey from bid leader to de facto host is almost complete and a sense of eager anticipation is palpable.

“It’s going to be a fun week underpinned by some amazing stories,” predicts Graham as he carefully pores over the printed timetable highlighting every venue and every event during every day of the 2019 games. “I’ve heard about a guy who had a heart transplant and he was so pleased with how it worked out that he donated one of his own kidneys. Evidently this chap competed in the pool in a previous World Transplant Games – he came first and his donated kidney came second! I love that. My mission is to get to as many events as possible and unearth as many of these wonderful stories as I can,” says Lynn.

It’s Graham’s own story that persuaded the celebrated entrepreneur to add chairman of the World Transplant Games to his ever-expanding portfolio of energy-sapping commitments.

Graham’s daughter, Kiera, underwent three major heart operations within two years at the Freeman Hospital and that life-saving surgery prompted the co-founder of Sage to become a patron of the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF). Increasingly close ties with the charity and the Freeman Hospital led to an approach to front NewcastleGateshead’s ambitious bid to host the World Transplant Games.

“Initially I was asked to chair the British Transplant Games four years ago,” adds Graham, who launched the Graham Wylie Foundation in 2015. “It was the least I could do. The staff at the Freeman saved my daughter’s life so it was a no- brainer. Me being me, I dived right in and I went to every single event at the 2014 games in Bolton – just to see how it was run and how it could be run even better.

“The 2015 NewcastleGateshead event was the most successful ever in terms of how well it was staged, the number of competitors who took part, the audience numbers and the fundraising levels. Given its success, I was asked to chair a delegation to pitch for the World Transplant Games. We saw off a strong bid from Houston and with a few weeks to go before everything kicks off we’ve almost raised the £3m required to stage the 2019 event.”

As a keen supporter of North East sport and the owner of the hugely successful Close House Golf Resort, Graham is acutely aware of the economic benefit that world class competition can bring to the region. But he believes the World Transplant Games presents a unique opportunity to those looking to promote NewcastleGateshead and the wider area.

“If you take something like the Rugby World Cup or Rugby League’s Big Weekend, it’s one venue hosting one sport and fans are in and out of the city often within 48 hours,” he adds. “With the World Transplant games there are 17 sports at 16 venues with the competition lasting a whole week. We are looking after so many people from all over the world for a considerable amount of time and we need to make the most of that.

“Fortunately, I have a great committee boasting a huge amount of collective experience and everyone excels in their specific role. We’ve covered every base in terms of making our visitors feel welcome – we’ve even done a deal with the Metro whereby competitors can use the entire network for free during the games.”

If showcasing the North East and boosting the region’s economy are positive by-products of hosting the World Transplant Games then the primary focus remains firmly fixed on raising awareness around an issue that continues to blight families across the UK. In 2019 more than 6000 people are on the transplant waiting list and the #PassItOn hashtag will be prominent throughout the course of August’s event.

“The law changes next April and from that point on it will be assumed that everyone is willing to be a donor unless they have stated otherwise,” adds Gill. “It’s progress but the family will still have the final say and so it’s a conversation that needs to be had now. More and more people are donating but the waiting list is still too long.

“The profile around organ donation needs to be raised and the World Transplant Games is a chance to do that. Without donors, so many of the competitors coming to the North East wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple. They’ve been given a second chance and they are taking that chance by staying fit and staying healthy.”

An understandably reticent Ryan refuses to contemplate what might have been without his mother’s brave donation. But he agrees that the World Transplant Games continues to transform lives and point towards a positive future.

“This is my second world games and I’m a regular at the British events,” adds a multi-discipline athlete who first shone on the international stage in Argentina four years ago. “It’s where I’ve met people who are far worse off than me – inspirational role models who make me realise just how lucky I am.

“I’ve made friends for life through the transplant games. As donor patients we share a unique bond and that bond is unbreakable. We’re the lucky ones but this is our chance to get the message out there and urge people to think about the #PassItOn campaign.”

World Transplant Games venues include Gateshead International Stadium, Close House Golf Resort, Eagles Community Arena and Sunderland Aquatic Centre

Newcastle University’s Boiler House hosts a free Sports Science event between 10am and 4pm on August 17.

Teams from across the world will walk from Old Eldon Square to Northumbria University’s Sport Central from 4.30pm on August 17.

Families are encouraged to take part in the Gift Of Life 5k fun run/walk (3k for children, supported by CHUF) at Newcastle’s Exhibition Park and Town Moor on August 18.

Text WTG2019 to 70300 to give £3 and help to deliver the 2019 World Transplant Games. Sponsorship offers and donations are still welcome.

Sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register and remember to share your wishes with close family #PassItOn

World Transport Games
The games takes place from August 17-24.
For more details visit