June 24 event raises funds for athletes with organ transplants
“We’ve selected a great cause for our June 24 Unleash Your Inner Animal event at John Ball Park Zoo (Grand Rapids, MI),” announces Will Ellermets, founder and CEO of Battle of the Gains (Gains).
Ellermets and his Gains group put on community events with a cause. Their primary purpose is promoting physical, mental and spiritual health, but any after-expense profits earned go to a local nonprofit organization. This year’s proceeds will be shared with the Donate Life Transplant Games produced by the Transplant Life Foundation, headquartered in Grand Rapids.
“The Foundation’s goal of keeping people with life-saving organ transplants healthy is similar to Gains’ goals,” explains Ellermets. “We promote physical, mental and spiritual health among all people.”
Bill Ryan, president/CEO of the Transplant Life Foundation and producer of the Donate Life Transplant Games of America agrees. “Proceeds we get from the Gains’ June 24 Zoo event will be used for scholarships to provide travel stipends for qualified athletes with organ transplants who would otherwise not be able to compete in the 2018 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah,” Ryan explains.
The U.S. and World Transplant Games help raise awareness of the need for organ donation as well as promote good health among recipients. In odd years like 2017, the Games attract people from over 55 countries worldwide. This year’s international competition is set for Spain.
What’s the story behind Battle of the Gains partnering with the Transplant Games of America?
Local businessperson Susan Maciak tells the story. Her son T.J, needed a kidney transplant while in high school. After more than two stressful years and eight near-death episodes, he was called to St. Mary’s Hospital (Grand Rapids) where doctors transplanted a healthy kidney from a deceased donor.
Like other young people waiting for transplants, T.J. had to give up high school sports, along with many college activities most students enjoy. A life-saving transplant became available to him in his sophomore year at Grand Valley State University (GVSU).
T.J. was thrilled that he could once again compete in sports — this time at Olympic-style games for kids and adults with organ transplants. He soon realized that the Games were more than athletic events. These annual Games were the perfect way for grateful families, organ donors and recipients to come together to heal emotionally and see for themselves that life could go on.
The Transplant Games underwent reorganization in 2011. Aware of how much these Games meant to thousands of people across the country and around the world, T.J. wanted to ensure that this very meaningful event would continue. In 2012, he was the key to bringing the Games to Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids, GVSU host the games; West Michigan gets a new foundation
T.J. started with a plea and a presentation to the West Michigan Sports Commission, a group that brings athletic events to town. Commission member Bill Ryan, CEO of Ryan Marketing Technologies, immediately took notice. His Grand Rapids firm has coordinated many big events, including the annual NCAA Final Four.
He was also a donor father when his teenage daughter died in a car accident some years ago. Ryan, with T.J.’s help, headed the 2012 Transplant Games of America; then, started the Transplant Life Foundation to keep the Games going. Under Ryan’s leadership, the 2014 U.S. Games went on in Houston and the 2016 games convened in Cleveland. U.S. athletes were again eligible for the World Games that took place in 2013 in South Africa and 2015 in Argentina.
FAST FORWARD . . . Gains founder Ellermets and Susan Maciak (T.J.’s mom) meet at the Hudsonville Chamber of Commerce. Susan likes Ellermet’s concept of Battle of the Gains. Her company, CAMEO Consulting LLC, helps sponsor the Gains’ first Sports Tournament last July in Hudsonville.
The two new allies met weekly all winter to discuss this coming summer’s Battle of the Gains event, set for June 24 at John Ball Park Zoo in Grand Rapids. When it was time to select a local cause to support, T.J.’s mom suggested the Transplant Games of America, a sports partnership that made sense.
“You meet people and you never know the battles they’ve been through. I never would have guessed that Susan and her family had gone through anything so life-threatening with their son.” – Ellermets
Ellermets realized immediately that the Transplant Games of America (TGA) were a perfect match. Both organizations promote physical, mental and spiritual health. Thousands of transplant athletes, their families, donor families, sponsors, volunteers, special guests and fans have found that the Transplant Games bring renewed spirits and emotional healing, along with physical well-being. Athletes, their families and friends are always amazed that competitors in the Games not only have miraculously survived – but also are able to thrive – after getting a second chance at life.