Back and better than ever! As if training for his second Olympic Games wasn’t enough, hurdler Aries Merritt also underwent a kidney transplant, just 11 months before heading to Rio.
Before the World Championships in Track & Field in Beijing last August, the 30-year-old shared with the world that he had been suffering from kidney disease. Despite his kidney function being at around 20 percent, he was able to win bronze in the 110-meter hurdles just four days before he underwent a transplant.
On September 1, 2015, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist received a life-changing gift from his sister, LaToya Hubbard — a kidney.
“I love her to death,” Merritt tells Us Weekly of his older sibling, adding that the transplant was a success. “My kidney function is at roughly 100 percent, it’s functioning very normally.”
However, there was a point after he was diagnosed when he thought his track career was over.
“The doctor said at first that I wouldn’t be able to run ever again … and so I was like, well, I did get a gold medal, I did accomplish a lot in the sport, I do have the world record, I have everything you can have in this sport. But I love running,” Merritt — who started training again in late 2015 — explains. “Taking something away that you love is just tragic. It’s like taking away a loved one. I love track and field. This is my life, this is what I do, and taking that away from me, it would just be devastating to me. And when I thought it was going to be taken away, I was devastated — I was so depressed and so down. I was in this place where I was just mean to everyone.”
Fortunately, the hurdler is back and ready to compete.
“It’s going to be challenging, it’s going to be tough. But I knew this year would be because of the kidney transplant,” he said of his return.
“I’m in better shape than I was the last couple of years, for sure, because I wasn’t able to put in the work that I’ve been able to do. I was putting in minimal amount of work to get by and now I’m able to put in real work, so I’m definitely in better shape,” he explains. “My speed hasn’t gone anywhere.”
But the ultimate goal remains defending his 2012 title.
“If I won gold I would definitely just bawl my eyes out as soon as I crossed the line,” the unattached hurdler admits. “It would just be phenomenal if that happened. I wasn’t really overcome with emotion at the last Olympic games because I was so relieved that it was over, like I’m not stressed out anymore! But this Olympics will be much more significant for me because of the kidney and all the struggle I’ve been through over the last two years before receiving the transplant. I mean, me winning gold, even a medal, after having major surgery … it will be the story of the Games.”
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Olympics begin on August 5 on NBC's networks.