Simply running, not winning, the bigger victory for Aries Merritt

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Aries Merritt came back and reached the 100-meter hurdles final at trials after having two kidney surgeries last fall.

EUGENE, Ore. -- One one-hundredth of a second.

After receiving a kidney transplant last September and going through a second kidney surgery in October, after going through months of recovery, training and daily medication, Aries Merritt missed making the U.S. Olympic team Saturday by just one one-hundredth of a second.

Racing in the 110-meter hurdles final at the U.S. Olympics trials, Merritt thought he crossed the line in second or third place. But after an agonizing delay, his place was shown as fourth with a time of 13.22, just behind third-place finisher Jeff Porter (13.21).

Merritt was obviously disappointed, but he said he had come to grips with it. After all, he has a gold medal in the event from the 2012 Olympics and is still competing against the world's best despite once thinking he could never run again because of his failing kidneys. Not making the Olympics is far better than being hooked to a dialysis machine for the rest of your life.

"Nothing can be worse than being told you can never run again, even if you come up a little short here," he said. "I've been to the Olympics, I won the Olympics. I've broken the world record. So, I mean, someone else can have a turn."

Even though Merritt will not compete in Rio, he should still be an inspiration to everyone. While you watch Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Usain Bolt this August, also keep Merritt and what he overcame prominently in mind.

After winning gold in 2012, his kidneys began to fail in 2013. Even with his kidney function no higher than 15 percent, he finished third at the world championships in Beijing late last August. He then underwent a transplant just days later in Arizona, receiving a kidney from his older sister, LaToya Hubbard.

And he was only one one-hundredth of a second from making the Olympics again the following summer.

"It hasn't even been a year since the transplant, only 10 months," Hubbard said. "For him to put his heart on the line and just miss at the team, I don't look at it as a failure or coming up short. He's still on top. He's still an Olympic gold medalist and still the world-record holder. He may not be able to defend that title, but nobody can take away what he did."

No, nobody can take that away. But what should they take away from what he has done and overcome?

"People should just know that no matter what you're going through in life, if you keep your mind focused on something you want to accomplish, anything is possible," Merritt said. "At world championships last year in Beijing, I had roughly no kidney function -- under 15 percent -- and I was still able to do amazing things.

"This time was a little different because I was compromised by the surgery. Me being sliced open, and my muscles shifted and putting a new organ in and me getting adjusted to the meds, it's a lot to comprehend. People don't understand the severity of what I've been through. Despite the fact I'm still out here doing the best I can."

Merritt's kidney doctor, Les Thomas, says that not only should people look to the hurdler for inspiration -- "a way to say no matter how dark it may be, there is always a brighter spot" -- they should look to his sister as a hero, as well. "She demonstrated extraordinary altruism, giving him a kidney."

Thomas also says people should take this story as a reason to consider organ donations. Donating a kidney is not that risky -- you only need one -- but the waiting list can be many years for a transplant.

"They may not have anyone in their lives who can give them a kidney and they will wait and wait and wait because there is a huge demand for kidney transplants," Thomas said. "And sometimes they will pass away with no kidney ever coming to them. ... If [more people donated], we would have a lot less people on the waiting list and less people would die."

Hubbard, who gave birth to her daughter the previous year, said she never worried about any risk in giving up her kidney. She simply asked her brother for the phone number of the Mayo Clinic so she could schedule a time.

"Let me go through this process and get on a table and help my brother out," she said. "He had something in his body that was dying and I have something that was living."

She gave it to him. And because she did, Merritt is alive and healthy and competing. And inspiring.

"This is still just a beginning," Hubbard said. "We still have the 2020 Olympics ahead and two world championships. I think this is eye-opening for kids and others. ...

"Always extend a hand and pay it forward."

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