Sunday, September 06, 2009

Adversity nothing new for teen at World Transplant Games

Posted By MATTHEW VAN DONGEN The Standard, St. Catharines, Ontario

A tire on Mike Mazzuocco's costly road bicycle was about to go flat minutes before his race at the World Transplant Games last week.

Luckily, he found a $5 solution.

The St. Catharines teen, who competed in the games 20 months after a double-lung transplant, wrapped an Australian five dollar bill around his punctured tire and cycled to a personal best time in the 20- kilometer race at the games down under.

The puncture was the latest in a series of bike malfunctions leading up to the race -- with the last problem discovered during the seven-minute race warm-up.

"It came down to the wire," said the West Park Secondary School student, who arrived home from Australia earlier this week. "I probably should have kept (the $5 bill). I think I could have used it to buy hot chocolate on the way home."

The determined 18-year-old managed personal bests in both his races at the Games -- about 52 minutes for the 20-kilometer race and 11 minutes, 11 seconds for his five-kilometer competition.

His equipment problems started early, with a blown front tire that was completely replaced before his first race. The other tire went flat twice in the hours before his 20-kilometer race. An Australian team captain pumped it up once; a Canadian member later replaced the inner tube.

The same friendly Australian suggested the final emergency fix. It turns out Australian bills are "a bit plasticky," said Mazzuocco. The durable dollar-wrap prevented another puncture and allowed the teen to race.

It was a "hairy-scary" situation, said Mazzuocco's mom, Jeannie. "A woman from Team SickKids was filming the whole thing, and she was almost crying."

Mazzuocco had already dealt with two-wheeled adversity on his way to the games. In late May, a thief stole Mazzuocco's training bike from a Tim Hortons. A city resident later found and returned the bike after seeing a Standard story on the theft.

It was just a bump in the road, however, compared to the challenge of recovering from a double lung transplant in 2007 due to cystic fibrosis -- then training to race in the Canadian Transplant Games in Windsor.

Mazzuocco won the timed five-kilometer trials at those games and began preparing for a 20-kilometer race on Australia's Gold Coast.

"To do what he did, 20 months after surgery, we're very proud," said his mom.

Mazzuocco is proud, too -- and grateful for the opportunity to compete and meet other athletes.

The Canadian Team was made up 48 athletes who have had heart, lung, kidney and liver transplants. They earned more than 70 medals at the games.

"It was fun, and great to see friends I made at the last games," said Mazzuocco, who is still recovering from the 20 hours of return flight. "Everyone was friendly... everyone shares something in common."

To see how the team fared between Aug. 22 and 30, visit

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