McKenna wins 10 medals at Transplant Games

Posted on 07 July 2016 by LeslieM

SPORTS070716By Gary Curreri

Deerfield Beach’s Jackson McKenna got a head start on this summer’s Olympics.

McKenna, 15, who will be a sophomore at Pompano Beach High School in the fall, cleaned up at the recent Transplant Games in Cleveland, Ohio by winning 10 medals for Team Florida.

He also earned the Youth Athlete of the Year award for the entire country for participants ages 3 to 17. Australia and Puerto Rico also had representation at the competition in addition to athletes from around the country.

I didn’t expect it whatsoever,” said McKenna, who as an infant needed a life-saving liver transplant. “It was very surprising to say the least. I was shocked at first. I thought it was a joke. It was really a lot of work and I was grateful they selected me.”

McKenna captured gold medals in four events – 100-meter dash, long jump, high jump and darts (cricket) and five silver medals in softball throw, discus, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and darts (501). He picked up a bronze medal in the shot put – all in the 14 to 17 age group.

The efforts in shot and discus were surprising given the fact that he had never competed in either event and watched YouTube videos to learn the technique. He had also never competed in darts.

At 5 months old, he was diagnosed with biliary (tract) ectasia and needed a life-saving liver transplant. McKenna received his liver on Feb. 17, 2001, has been healthy ever since, and, every two years, he competes in the Transplant Games of America.

The Transplant Games of America include track and field events, swimming, table tennis, cycling, long jump, table tennis and the softball throw.

The 10 medals this year easily surpassed his previous record high of six that he earned in Michigan four years ago and the five he won in Texas two years ago. Yet, McKenna said winning is not the driving force.

I just tried my best to see what I could do,” said Jackson, who has turned from sports to a new interest – playing the guitar. “I just wanted to win one medal. I had no idea I would do this well. The last few years have been pretty great. It is really fun. It is great to see the old friends you met from all around the world and then to meet new people.”

He took up the guitar two years ago and is in a music program in Boca Raton. He hopes to be a marine biologist or a guitar player when he gets older.

When you are competing, you are trying to prove whatever it is,” McKenna said. “Through guitar you can let out your emotions. How you feel is how you are going to play.”

The Transplant Games showcase the success of transplantation and calls attention to the life saving importance of organ donation, and honors organ donors and their families.

Health-wise he’s been doing great the past couple of years,” said his mother Jina McKenna. “We weren’t sure how he would do this year because he didn’t really put in as much time training for this as he had done in the past, but he really brought it when it came time for the Games. Winning the Youth Athlete of the Year was really special. It was really cool. We were shocked and surprised. We were happy and really honored.”

He won it because of the medals, but also his participation with Team Florida and his fundraising,” she added. “It also went to his helping create awareness and his longevity in the Games since he has been competing since before he was 2.”

McKenna was the youngest participant in his first Transplant Games in Orlando in 2002 at 18 months as he competed in the softball throw.

This experience has just shown me that you also go as hard as you can and you always try,” McKenna said. “Even if you think you can’t do something, you always try.”

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