Special interview: Nothing comes between Ricardo & sport

It’s great to speak to you, Ricardo. You have an inspiring story about perseverance to share but let’s start by hearing a little about yourself.

My name is Ricardo García Sala and I was born in 1971 in Benejúzar, a small town in the coastal province of Alicante, Spain. Almost 20 years ago, when I was 26, I learned I had chronic kidney disease and at some point would have to go on dialysis to keep me alive.

Reading, cooking, automobiles: We all have passions in life and yours has always been sport. Did that change after being diagnosed with kidney disease?

Sport has always been and will always be my passion. I started playing handball when I was just 8 years old. After receiving my diagnosis, I had to officially drop out of the team, though I continued training as long as I could. Three years later, when I was 29, I started dialysis. No question that it was hard news to accept at such a young age, with a lifetime to live ahead of me. Even so, I’m lucky dialysis was an option and that I was able to train on days when I didn’t have treatment.

Wow, that’s amazing! Certainly people would have understood if you stopped training so what drove you to stick with sport?

Although it took a big effort on my part, my desire to be a successful athlete was stronger than my fatigue. I tried to balance sport and treatment as best I could by establishing a weekly routine that worked for me: Tuesdays and Thursdays I ran for 45 minutes; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I went to the centre for dialysis. Even though I could not participate, by attending the handball matches of my teammates I still felt like part of the team.

Anyone on dialysis or with a friend or loved one undergoing therapy knows its value, but dialysis can be physically and emotionally challenging at times. How did you cope and remain optimistic?

My first years of treatment were bearable. After I decided to put my name on the transplant list and the waiting started, the NephroCare team at the dialysis centre never stopped encouraging me and taught me to live in the moment. Deep down in my heart, I was thankful for dialysis. After all, it was saving my life! However, my mind was like a stopwatch, counting the days, hours and minutes since I last played sport. In retrospect, it is funny to think how impatient I was but it kept me motivated!

Though transplantation isn’t for everyone, and it comes with advantages and disadvantages, you decided it was right for you. What’s your transplant story?

Well, trying to get a donor kidney involved a lot of waiting and feelings of helplessness. During my honeymoon in Tenerife, I got the call I had awaited for so many years: they had a kidney that might be a match and I needed to return quickly to my referral hospital. But that day there were no return flights so we missed the first chance at a transplant. Even so my wife encouraged me to continue enjoying our holiday, and we did.

But ultimately you got a second chance, right?

Yes, I certainly did! Time passed and finally one day – on April 28, 2006, after 4 years and 10 months of treatment – my time arrived: I received a matching donor kidney. I was lucky that the operation went well and after recovering, I was able to take up sport again but this time I started with mountain biking. Little by little I back got in shape and I felt better and stronger each time I trained. That is when I decided to join the local cycling club in Benejúzar.

So thanks to dialysis, and later transplantation, you were able to pursue activities you enjoyed before your diagnosis, with some modifications. For example, switching from handball to cycling. What role does cycling play in your life today?

It is much more than just a hobby: since joining the club I have participated in as many mountain bike races as possible. In 2012 I completed my first race in Guardamar del Segura, a nearby coastal town in Alicante, followed by San Miguel de Salinas, an inland village in the same area. In 2014 I did San Miguel de Salinas again, Albatera, and the hardest course of all, Crevillente. I also cycled three times from Espinardo to Caravaca de la Cruz, a distance of 90 km. These are all very demanding courses.

What’s on your mind while racing?

I am a back-of-the-pack racer, to use the cyclist term, but for me racing is about overcoming personal challenges, not about winning. What counts most is participating and finishing, and that is what I focus on. After all I have been through, when I get in the zone and people and friends are cheering me on – that’s worth millions.

Anyone will tell you that setting goals helps accomplishing a task. Looking into the near future, what are your goals?

For 2015 I plan to participate again in Crevillente 2015 as well as in Marcha Vías del Tren, a race running from Potríes in Valencia to Elche in Alicante. Last year the course was 135 km, with a total elevation gain of 1,400 metres. Let’s see what they have in store for us this year!

Other than sport, what’s important to you in life?

My dear wife, Loli, and my beautiful daughter, María. I am also lucky to have a job I enjoy – I am self-employed in the insurance industry – and almost 10 years after getting a transplant my physical fitness is phenomenal. I am grateful for the care I received from the medical staff, nurses and assistants at the Orihuela centre during my haemodialysis treatment, and of course from the nephrology team at the University Hospital of Alicante, led by Dr. Antonio Franco Esteve.

As you know from personal experience, it’s so important for people with a chronic illness to keep things in perspective and focus on making the most out of life. What do you hope your personal story will inspire others to do?

I hope my words and my story of success will help people currently undergoing treatment for kidney disease. I believe part of successful treatment is in our heads: "If you want to, you can."

Any parting words for our readers?

Take heart, all of you! This cannot and must not put an end to enjoying life!