How to donate
What: Make a monentary donation to Team Green or the Georgia Transplant Foundation to support transplant patients
Drop-off: Limestone Place, 2480 Limestone Parkway, Gainesville
Cycling has long been touted as a great way to improve health and increase longevity, but two Georgia cyclists are attempting to take the sport a step farther.
Kelly Parham, 54, of Gainesville and Peter Kite, 45, of Dawsonville embarked on a 3,000-mile indoor ride Friday to raise funds and awareness for transplant recipients and donors. The symbolic nine-day bike ride across America is taking place at Limestone Place athletic complex in Gainesville. Funds raised will go to Team Green, the nonprofit organization Kite founded in 2005, and the Georgia Transplant Foundation to help transplant recipients purchase anti-rejection medication.
Both men can speak intimately on the subject of organ donation. Eight months ago, Parham donated one of his kidneys to his friend Kite.
Kite, who was born with a congenital defect causing his kidneys to fail at an early age, met Parham about five years ago after the Dawsonville man started riding a bike to get in shape. When Parham heard Kite needed a new kidney earlier this year, he offered to be a live donor.
Parham, who will turn 55 on Monday, hopes to show other would-be organ donors a donation is more of a gift than a sacrifice.
“A lot of people have a misconception about life afterward and the donor,” Parham said. “That’s the main thing we want to tell people is that there is nothing to be afraid of.”
Parham said he thinks potential donors often worry they will give up their quality of life by making a donation to a family member, a friend or even a stranger in need. To illustrate his point, Parham will mount his bike for nine consecutive days and prove how much a donor is still able to physically accomplish.
“This is the longest I’ve gone,” Parham said. “The longest I ever rode was three and half days and this is double that. I’m going to try to race it in my head like I would on a real race.”
Parham set up his bike in the middle of several others on a platform in the middle of the complex. A map of the U.S. with checkpoints to show their progress is taped to the wall in front of the bikes.
With only one kidney, Parham said he will make sure he stays hydrated throughout the event, but expects the experience to be similar to those he had in the past with both kidneys.
Parham will rest for two to three hours at night and ride for most of the day, only taking short breaks when necessary. Kite intends to ride alongside Parham for much of the race, though he will take more frequent and longer breaks because his body is still healing from the operation. Transplant recipients take at least a year to heal.
“To be on a bike next to my donor, riding to finish this ride, it’s probably the miracle of it all,” Kite said. “One donor, one recipient riding their bikes together.”
Cyclists are invited to bring their bikes and ride with Parham and Kite for a $25 donation. The center’s doors will be open around the clock to allow those who want to encourage the cyclists the opportunity to do so even in the middle of the night when they need it most.
The event will be featured in a documentary film, “Cycle of Life,” by Gainesville filmmaker, Jacob Burke.
Burke said the cyclists’ story appealed to him because of how selflessly Parham gave.
“The story obviously follows the transplant, but it’s really about helping your fellow man and giving back ...” Burke said. “(Parham) is doing this eight months after a kidney transplant. Giving a kidney doesn’t make you less of a person. It doesn’t make you weaker.”
According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 94,000 people are waiting to receive a donor kidney. Last year, an average of 13 people died each day waiting for a donor.
Parham and Kite are a part of a cross-matching donation program. Usually, most living donors are relatives because the organs are more compatible. However, sometimes, like with Kite and Parham, an unrelated person may be a better match than a blood relative.
Kite had two previous transplants. His mother donated one of her kidneys when he was 13 years old, and his aunt donated after the original donated kidney failed in 2004. His brother also offered a kidney but Parham was a better match.
Since the operation, Kite said the two talk almost every day but rarely about the transplant.
Kite laughed and said it’s just an unspoken piece of their relationship.
“I have a new life. It’s great and it’s going to get better,” he said. “Kelly saved my life.”