Anthony Freeman sprints around the UA Little Rock track and field and appears the epitome of health. Few would know that he spent seven years on dialysis after losing both kidneys. A kidney transplant in 2015 gave him a new lease on life – one that he’s determined to not take for granted.
On Aug. 1, the 26-year-old UA Little Rock student leaves for Salt Lake City, Utah – on his first airplane trip – where he will participate in the 2018 Transplant Games of America taking place Aug. 2-7. He will compete in several competitions, including the 100 meter, 200 meter, 5K, and 1800 meter races as well as a basketball tournament.
Once a high school football stand-out, Freeman has always enjoyed competition. He ran track and played football and basketball at North Pulaski High School. Freeman got used to playing through the pain of sport injuries. But by 16, he was suffering pain that couldn’t be ignored. He was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and both kidneys had to be removed.
“The year I was looking forward to being scouted was my junior year, I had to start dialysis,” he recalled.
Faced with the reality of his health and the fact that sports were over, depression set in. He dropped out of high school and starting working. He left home, sleeping on the floors of friends, and at times, found himself homeless.
“I was heavy-hearted at the time, and I realized I was just being defiant,” he said in retrospect. “I realized I was gonna die.”
He was three days into College Algebra and Composition II classes, when a transplant became available.
“They told me it would take three to six months to recover,” he said. Friends and family urged Freeman to quit school, but he didn’t want to lose the momentum he’d built up. He stayed in school, finishing the semester with a 4.0 GPA.
“All it took was discipline,” he said. “I shut out everything. I knew that if I could do this, I could complete this degree with a 4.0.”
However, his college work and an internship at Woods Group Architects in Little Rock have helped him find his true passion: architecture. He hopes to eventually get a master’s degree in urban planning.
For now, Freeman is working at the Baptist Campus Ministry, assisting with programming and events, and he is also a youth ministry leader at Runyan First Baptist Church in North Little Rock.
Between working part-time and taking summer classes, Freeman manages to keep up a disciplined athletic training schedule for what will be his second Transplant Games. He completed in the 2016 games in Cleveland, not quite a year after his transplant.
“I underestimated the competition then. I didn’t know how intense it would be,” he said. “This year, I’m not taking it so lightly.”
The Vitamin Shoppe in North Little Rock, where Freeman works, provides him with a trainer and a sport nutritionist to help him stay on track. He keeps two food journals and uses the Yazio app to track his dietary intake. While training, he sticks to a high-protein, carb-rich, low-fat diet, consuming 3,000-5,000 calories daily.
A typically training breakfast includes three whole grain waffles, six slices of turkey bacon, turkey sausage, a banana, mixed fruit, a protein shake, a multivitamin and a fish oil supplement. Lunch is typically three salmon filets, mixed rice, asparagus, protein chips, bread and butter, half a protein shake, and another vitamin. For dinner, he has two chicken breasts with a baked potato, corn, greens, asparagus, and mixed fruit.
He exercises six days a week, alternating workouts of power strength training – with bench presses, deadlifts, squats, and leg presses – and speed training, such as bleacher runs, bear crawls, and 80 meter runs. He also does stretching and core work on alternate days, with Sundays set aside for rest.
His health is the best it’s been in years.
“I know so many people who die because of complications with their transplant, and here I am a healthy young person who doesn’t look like they’ve ever suffered from dialysis,” he said. “I can’t believe the hurdles I’ve overcome to get to this place.”
In Salt Lake City, Freeman will be running in celebration of his life – and in honor of the young donor who gave him a new lease on life.
Freeman knows little about his donor – only that the donor was 22 years old. The Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency (ARORA) protects the privacy of donors’ families and contacts families only when they are ready to connect with donor recipients. Freeman recently wrote a letter to his donor’s parents and hopes to one day meet them.
“I want them to know how I’ve evolved from being a kid to being an adult and an athlete and being in a college program I never dreamed of,” he said. “I want them to know that I am able to embrace living because of their son or daughter and that their spirit lives on.”