In the small town of Haarlem, in the Southern Cape, primary school children have the option of participating in two sporting codes: rugby or athletics. Being the overachiever that he was, Martinique du Preez participated in both. It was while playing rugby as a young boy that he realised his potential as an athlete. By the time he turned eight, he could already outrun most kids his age.
The first time he noticed his legs swelling, the then-13-year-old attributed the snug fit of his clothes to his growing muscles as a result of all the training he was doing. “Rugby kept me very occupied. We would have training after school five days a week. Then I would go home and do bodyweight exercises.”
When he woke up with his face swollen, his father thought he might have been stung by a bee. A week later, Martinique’s face remained puffy – it was time to visit the clinic. The doctor realised that Martinique’s blood pressure was too high for a young teenager. His abnormally high blood pressure coupled with his swollen features signified that there was a problem with his kidneys.
When doctors in the area couldn’t find the source of the problem, Martinique was transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital. The results of a biopsy performed on his kidneys indicated that the organs were failing. Martinique was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.
Fearing for the life of her son, Martinique’s mother donated one of her kidneys to him. He had a rare blood type, and she was the only match that could be found. But a few hours after the surgery, his body began rejecting the organ. “I don’t know what went wrong,” he explains. “But I blamed myself for the pain and suffering she had to endure for six months after she donated her kidney.”
Martinique’s deteriorating health placed an enormous burden on the family. Prayer was the only thing that kept them going. “I was dying, and we lived life day by day,” he says. “We never stopped hoping that a miracle would happen.”
That miracle occurred when Martinique was 18. A teenager who had died from a gunshot wound turned out to be a match for him. “I was really saddened by his death, but I’m so incredibly grateful at the same time that his mom donated his kidney to me.”
His recovery from the transplant was painful. At times, even walking proved difficult for him. Only after three months could he start doing light exercises.
Six months after his transplant Martinique was on the athletics track once more – something he hadn’t dreamed of ever being able to do again. “The doctors were sceptical at first, because a person who undergoes a transplant is only allowed to participate in sport a year after the transplant.” But Martinique had always been one to exceed expectations. Athletics was his passion. Nothing would stand between him and his ability to do the sport he loved.
A few months after he started training, Martinique took part in the National Transplant Games. Despite his best efforts, his times weren’t enough for him to qualify for the World Transplant Games.
Martinique didn’t let this stop him. He’d already beaten the odds when doctors told his mother he wouldn’t live beyond 18. “I learned that anything can happen at any given time in my life; hence, I need to live as though each day is my last.” With this sentiment in mind he continued to participate in the National Transplant Games each year. He trained five days a week, three hours a day, to ensure he was the best he could be.
In 2016 his hard work paid off. At that year’s competition he broke the South African record for the 100m, 200m, long jump, ball throw and javelin events. This meant he automatically qualified for the World Transplant Games, held in Malaga, Spain. Here, Martinique continued to defy the odds when he won a gold medal in the ball throw, a silver medal in both javelin and long jump, and a bronze in the 100m sprint.
Martinique is thankful for the second chance he’s been given. “I feel amazing. Looking back and knowing what I have been through – I’m just grateful to be healthy, and living out my dream.”
The 22-year-old has big plans for the future. There’s no doubt in his mind he can achieve anything he sets out to do. “I made a promise to God. If he healed me, I would share my story. God healed me through my second transplant. Now I love more, trust more, and totally rely on God.”
Originally published on menshealth.com
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