Mark Neville, the 53-year-old CEO of Sports San Diego and executive director of the nonprofit San Diego Bowl Game Association, has had only two surgeries in his life.
The first was a 2006 procedure which allowed him to share bone marrow with a young Orange County boy in dire need. Neville was discovered through a nationwide bone marrow registration search – one in which he had entered his name and details 12 years prior.
The second surgery was a 2019 transplant procedure that took place in Houston, when Neville donated one of his kidneys to the daughter of a woman who used to babysit his children.
Not two months after the successful kidney transplant, a friend of Neville’s told him about the six-day Transplant Games of America – sporting events held every other year in different cities around the nation in which all participants have either been the recipient of a donated organ, have donated an organ themselves, or represent a family member who has donated an organ.
With a very personal connection of helping others through giving of himself, Neville quickly went into action, seeing how he could bring the Olympics-like event, produced by the Michigan-based Transplant Life Foundation to San Diego.
He reached out to the San Diego Tourism Authority, the San Diego Tourism Marketing Association, and colleagues and members of the Bowl Game Association.
The idea that the Transplant Games could drive tourism in San Diego was a big sell, since the events bring thousands of transplant recipients, living donors, donor families, individuals on waiting lists for a donation, caregivers, transplant professionals, supporters and spectators for a unique and inspiring celebration of life.
San Diego’s request to host was OK’d by the Transplant Life Foundation.
And now the Games are here, slated for July 29 through Aug. 3 at several venues around San Diego County.
“The Transplant Games, a 32-year tradition, is thrilled to be in San Diego this summer, and partnering with the San Diego community to put on what we believe will be the biggest and best Games yet,” said Bill Ryan, president and CEO of the Transplant Life Foundation.
More than three dozen national teams from 47 states across the country will join international teams from Brazil, Colombia and Australia to compete in 20 sporting events, including badminton, ballroom dancing, cornhole, cycling, darts, pickleball, table tennis, volleyball and even Texas Hold-Em Poker.
Events Downtown and in El Cajon, at UCSD
While the bulk of the competition will be held at the San Diego Convention Center downtown, bowling is slated for Parkway Bowl in El Cajon, golf at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club and Miramar Memorial Golf Course, swimming at UC San Diego’s Canyonview Aquatic Center, tennis at UCSD’s Northview Tennis Courts and track and field at the Triton Track and Field Stadium at UCSD.
There is also a “Lyrics for Life” singing competition scheduled for the San Diego Convention Center and a 5K run/walk held the morning of Saturday, July 30. The race will traverse downtown San Diego, and be followed by a parade.
On Sunday, July 31, Neville said there will be a special San Diego-vibe paddle-out at La Jolla Shores near Kellogg Park.
Neville said he will be participating in the event, teaming up for doubles pickleball with Diane Brockington, a local who donated a kidney in 2001. Brockington was known as Diane Scott before she donated her kidney to former Green Bay Packers running back John Brockington. The two would later marry in 2003.
“The United States continues to lead the world with record-setting numbers of transplants,” Ryan said. “Last year alone, in the U.S. there were over 40,000 organ transplants and that was a new record.”
Dr. Kristin Mekeel, transplant and hepatobiliary surgeon chief and surgical director of kidney and pancreas transplantation with UCSD, said the hospital’s center for transplantation is “thrilled to have the Transplant Games in San Diego this summer.”
“These Games also celebrate the transplant recipients who have recovered from life threatening organ failure and can compete in sports as they return to a normal life,” Mekeel said. “The Games will help highlight organ donation and the importance of signing up to be an organ donor, as healthy transplant recipients are living long and full lives — including enjoying sports. It is a great event to get donors, families, patients, friends, and transplant program team members together as a community.”