By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Trevin Ray has gone from fighting for his life to winning gold medals.
Nearly five years ago, Ray, an Enid native, received what he calls “the gift of life” and today, thanks to that gift — a pancreas transplant — and along with a strong dose of self-determination, he is a gold medal winner with a chance now to compete for more gold, this time on the world’s stage.
Ray, 24, competed this past summer at the Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich., as part of Team Oklahoma and took the gold medal as the top golfer in his age division (19-29), shooting a two-day total of 162 (82-80). That win qualified him for the 19th annual World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa, that run from July 28 through Aug. 4, where he will compete as part of Team USA, and as one of 154 athletes from 55 countries.
Not bad for a guy who says at one time he was just “fighting to see the next day” as he battled a painful, debilitating disease.
“It’s just will power and the ability to fight through it,” Ray said. “You learn to live with it like any other disease.”
In this case it was chronic pancreatitis caused by a genetic gene mutation. It was a condition that derailed his prep football and basketball career at Enid High School, and at one time had him taking up to 50 pills per day after having his pancreas removed and having insulin delivered through a small pump in his stomach. He also was unable to digest food.
“At that time I was just fighting for my life and fighting to see the next day,” he said. “When I first got sick, my goal had been to play college football and basketball and when I realized that wasn’t possible, having that competitive edge within me still gave me my motivation.”
Despite being unable to play contact sports, he still practiced with the EHS golf team regularly.
In 2008 a donor became available and he decided to proceed with a pancreatic transplant that gave him a renewed lease and chance to lead a more normal life, even if there remain difficult moments.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “But we (transplant recipients) are given a second chance at life and feel really grateful to have that chance.”
But the medications required also suppress Ray’s immune system and have their share of side effects.
“It makes you feel tired and some weeks you feel bad or your energy is low,” he said. “But on the days when you have nausea or headaches, it’s easier to get through because you know you have been given this second chance.”
And it hasn’t stopped him from pursuing either his athletic or career objectives.
Ray, currently pursing a web development degree at Oklahoma City Community College, said he believes he stands a good chance at this summer’s World Transplant Games and has been working hard in the weeks leading up to the event.
“I have been training really hard, putting extra time into it,” he said. “My goal is to at least medal, and if everything goes well, I believe I can win a gold medal.”
But he has to get there first and to do that requires raising about $4,000, which he said covers air fare, lodging and meals. He said he is about 50 percent there as far as raising the total needed and has had success fundraising to businesses, through his church and individuals.
“It’s expensive because it’s in South Africa, but I’ve been really surprised at how well it’s (fundraising) been going,” he said.
Ray also sees a higher purpose to the games beyond the competition.
“But (the games) are really about raising awareness and showing what transplant recipients can accomplish,” he said. “It’s important to show that we are not just sick people who sit at home and do nothing.”
A particularly poignant moment for a transplant recipient is meeting the donor’s family, and it was no exception in Ray’s case either as he met the family of Jonathon, his donor, who was only one year older than Ray.
Ray got to meet Jonathan’s family at last year’s Transplant Games of America.
“It was pretty emotional,” he recalls. “I was happy to meet them and they were happy to meet me and see that I was able to enjoy life and participate in these games. They almost felt like they had another son again and were glad to be able to cheer me on ... that he was living through me.”
Ray said it’s important people check the organ donor box on their drivers’ license.
“Up to seven lives can be saved by being an organ donor,” Ray said.
And while not wanting his disease to be what defines him, he readily shares his story with others to hopefully inspire those in similar circumstances, especially young people.
“I like being an example,” Ray said. “I talk to kids all over the U.S. that go through similar stuff and hopefully they can say ‘look at him, he’s able to work and play sports again.’ It’s not the end of the world when you have to go through something like this.
“At a young age it’s a lot harder to cope with everything, and I tell kids I went through it and went through the crying and not wanting to be alive, and you can get through it too.”
Ray also said a spiritual connection has helped him in his journey.
“I just try to stay normal as possible and not have anybody feel sorry for me,” he said. “God put me through this because he knows I am a tough person and now I am a better person because of it. I would rather not had this happen of course, but am glad I went through it. He knew I was tough enough.”
Those wishing to contribute to help send Trevin Ray to the World Transplant Games in South Africa, can send a donation payable to LIFE SHARE OKLAHOMA with “Team USA” in the memo line, to 4017 Shiloh, Enid, OK 73703. Donations are tax deductible.