From time to time, the opportunity arises to meet a hero. This past fall, I had the opportunity to meet Chris Klug, the five-time World Cup Snowboarding Champion and the 11-time U.S. National Champion. In 2002, he won a Bronze Medal at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games and placed 7th at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
In 1993, Chris was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. By 1999, a year after placing 6th in snowboarding at the Nagano Olympics, he was on the liver transplant list. In July 2000, Chris received a liver from a gunshot victim. Just 18 months later, he was on the podium in Vancouver.
Today, Chris is mostly retired from World Cup Snowboarding and is focusing more on his personal athletic goals and promoting organ donation through the Chris Klug Foundation (CKF) and a CKF program known as Donor Dudes.
Here is what Chris had to say about his goals for this Winter and the coming years.
NW: What are your plans for this Winter? Are you competing or coaching or doing something completely different?
CK: I’m going to do a few races for fun, but focusing more on my mountaineering and backcountry snowboarding activities. I want to climb all of Colorado’s 14’ers and be the first transplant recipient to climb the Seven Summits. I am also preparing for our 5th Annual Aspen Summit for Life on December 10 and 11. I will continue to volunteer my time to promote life-saving organ donation through the Chris Klug Foundation.
NW: You’ve said that the greatest moment of your career was winning a Bronze Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics just eighteen months after a liver transplant. What was the greatest challenge of your career?
CK: The greatest challenge was spending six years on a transplant waiting list in the middle of my competitive snowboarding career. The wait is the hardest part, not knowing what’s ahead, and if and when you’ll get the call.
NW: What are your goals for the Chris Klug Foundation over the next five years?
CK: My goal is to share our CKF Organ Donation Educational Video “Know the Facts, Share Your Decision” with every high school health and drivers education class in the country. I want to make sure that every person that goes to get their learner’s permit or driver’s license for the first time has the tools to make an informed donation decision.
My long-term goal is to eliminate the wait for organ transplant candidates. This is a curable disease. The answer is education and awareness.
NW: What would you say to convince someone to become an organ donor?
CK: I’m here because of it. One donor can save up to eight lives and improve as many as 50 lives through donation. You might as well help someone else out if you’re not here anymore. The impact you can have on so many is significant.
NW: A primary program of the CKF is Donor Dude which reaches out to high school and college students to help them promote organ donation among their peers. Students are encouraged to initiate and plan events, raise money and establish school chapters. How is this outreach effort going?
CK: There are currently about 20 Donor Dudes chapters at high school and colleges nationwide. They are completely grassroots efforts, organized by students who want to help spread the donation message. So far, in 2010, there have been about 65 Donor Dudes events.
NW: Finally, what is it like having a donated liver? Do you think of it as the donor’s liver or your liver?
CK: It feels like mine, but I will never forget where it came from and the selfless and heroic decision another made to give me a second chance at life. I will always be grateful and humbled by my donor family.
For more information on organ donation, the Chris Klug Foundation, Donor Dudes and how you can be an organ donation hero, visit the Chris Klug Foundation website.
Kristen Lummis lives on the Western Slope and blogs at braveskimom.com.