Coach on Merritt coping with kidney disease, 2016 plans

Arizona Republic medical reporter Ken Alltucker spoke with 2012 Olympic hurdles champion Aries Merritt and his sister LaToya Hubbard this week about Merritt’s kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. Hubbard was the donor.

Merritt has been training at Altis (formerly World Athletics Center) in Phoenix since mid-2013 with his long-time coach Andreas Behm. Here is more of my conversation Thursday with Behm about Merritt, who amazingly won a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the World Track Championships in Beijing four days before the transplant.


  • “In terms of moving forward, I don’t know what it means yet. He feels a lot more energetic and mentally he’s a lot more at peace. From a training standpoint, it’s complete uncharted territory. We don’t know what to expect. It will be similar to what we’ve been doing the last couple of years, see how he’s feeling and improving the best we could. Particularly last season. This season was a lot more stable because he knew what he was dealing with and his body adapted to its weakened state. We were not sure how his energy levels would be so it was a constant game of having a plan and improvising if need be. If we had to change things up, it wasn’t the end of the world.”
  • “He did very good job of remaining positive and optimistic throughout. Finally having a diagnosis (last year) of what exactly was going on helped. For long time, he didn’t know exactly what was happening. Despite it being grim (diagnosis), knowing and having a course of action was a lot better than not knowing even if the news wa not great. He has a great (family) support system. Sport became his coping mechanism, relieving pressure and bringing sense of normalcy to his life. It took away some of the pressures of having to think about that illness all the time.”
  • “In general, it was quite a bit of surprise and stunned awareness (when Aries announced his kidney disease and impending transplant in Beijing two weeks ago). People knew something hadn’t been right with him, whether it was injury or what else was going on. The thing that most surprised me was how many came up to myself or Aries and said they had kind of idea what he was going through and can relate because of relatives also with some form of kidney problem. The frequency this occurs kind of astounded me at least anecdotally. The outpouring of support from competitors (including fellow hurdler David Oliver, seventh at Worlds) was astounding.  Aries is very well liked and their support very touching. They respect him and he respects them.”
  • “People realized something wasn’t quite right. He physically looked a little different. We kept saying he was injured and having hamstring trouble, which had manifested itself especially through last year. He was getting so close to surgery and wanted to release this on his own terms. It wasn’t meant in a self-serving way for publicity sake. It was meant to inspire people and for him to release it on his own terms. He didn’t want someone releasing it in a blog. He wanted control of his own story.”
  • On NBA players Alonzo Mourning and Sean Elliott, who also have had kidney transplants: “I’m not a doctor so it’s hard to draw an exact comparison. The encouraging thing to me more than a comeback is they seem to be able to lead fulfilling lives. Sports is secondary. Both had a little trouble coming back to being their all-star selves but were still able to play. Basketball is a lot longer than track, which is short, sustained effort especially in his event. Both made a strong comeback in terms being a functioning human being. I like his chances. We’ll see how he recovers, how he heals, follow to the doctor’s order to a T and not rush anything. We’ll take it slowly and be extra cautious. We don’t want any setbacks any lingering medical problems because we’re too greedy. This is a second chance to resume his career and an awesome responsibility to do his training the right way even if it takes longer. We’ll start normally in terms of time frame (for 2016 Olympic year), it’s a matter of what we start with.”
  • “His mindset changes from this might be my last race ever (in Beijing). That can be tough or very empowering. He was sick and tired of worrying and just decided to execute, run his race and whatever happens, happens. He was happy the result. I don’t think it could have been much more rewarding (bronze in a season-best 13.04 seconds). There were seven other amazing athletes in the race who aren’t giving him anything. That’s how it should be. You have to earn every single placing.”

, azcentral sports 7:46 a.m. MST September 4, 2015

Video: Olympic champion and world record holder Aries Merritt who successfully underwent a kidney transplant in Phoenix, just four days after winning a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2015 IAAF World Championships.

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