Canadian Race-walker a force to be reckoned with
By Erin McPhee North Shore News
Margaret Benson was lying on a hospital bed in an intensive care unit when she made her decision.
Having just survived a double lung transplant -- after a childhood diagnosis with cystic fibrosis -- the North Vancouver resident felt she had been given a second chance.
Not only that, one of her physiotherapists gave her a Vancouver Sun Run bib.
"I made the decision then that the way to give back to my donor and donor family was to begin participating in running activities or in some sort of athletic event to really prove that organ donation works," she says.
Close to 10 years later, Benson, 49, has made a name for herself as a champion athlete. While she continues to add to her personal medal count, what makes her stand out among her peers, is her continued celebration of the gift of life.
Benson has just returned from the Canadian Transplant Games held in Windsor, Ont., Aug. 4-9, with a world record, seven medals and she took top honours after being named athlete of the games.
She was among more than 400 transplant recipients from across the country, ranging in age from five to 76, who gathered to compete in Olympic-style events, all the while raising awareness about organ and tissue donation and celebrating their second chance at life.
"Most of my events that I achieve medals in are running races and 10 years ago I was on full-time oxygen," she says. "For me, it's just amazing that I can run and put one foot in front of the other, but the fact that I'm able to run and win medals, it's pretty extraordinary."
When Benson was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 14, the life expectancy was 15, she says.
"It was a death sentence basically," she says.
Approaching her 50th birthday next year means she has a lot to be happy about.
After Benson received her transplant in 1999, something she calls "the greatest gift I could ever receive," she maintained her goal to lead an active life.
Having been somewhat athletic prior to her transplant, following her recovery, she ramped up her training.
"When you can't breathe it's very difficult to do any kind of really strenuous activities," she says of her former self.
With her newfound lung capacity, Benson initially got involved with dragon boating, later turning her focus to race-walking, which continues to be her forte. Opting to participate in, of course, The Vancouver Sun Run, and other local events, Benson has also become an avid contender and a force to be reckoned with in the Canadian Transplant Games as well as the World Transplant Games.
"These are the Olympics of the transplant world," she says. "The difference is that all the athletes have had life-saving and life-changing organ transplants. Most of us were very near death. Some of us were within hours of dying and because someone signed their organ donor card or a family knew what their loved one's wishes were, our lives were saved."
Being part of these events, is an incredibly emotional experience, she says.
"All of us were waiting to die," she says. "Some of us wrote letters to our loved ones saying goodbye. . . . When you watch these people at these games, you realize how special life is and what the gift of life is all about. If we win a medal, that's great, but it's all about just living life, giving back and feeling so fortunate just to be alive."
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