TWELVE years ago Steve Whelan almost died after contracting a waterborne virus in South America.

Now he is a silver medal and twice bronze medal-holding athlete, thanks to a life-saving liver transplant.

Today, Mr Whelan is flying to Zagreb in Croatia to represent Great Britain in an Olympics with a difference, the European Transplant and Dialysis Games.

For him, it is an opportunity to raise the profile of transplants, such as the one which saved his life.

Mr Whelan, 51, is an executive coach from Horspath.

He said: “I needed an emergency liver transplant within a week. They rescued me from a coma, it was very fraught and very serious.

“If you have gone through that kind of physical ordeal, you don’t want to be feeling rubbish, you want to be feeling fit, and the nature of that surgery means that for the first year I was exhausted all the time.

“I just got tired of feeling tired, so I focused on endurance sport to get that energy back.”

Since starting to compete in 2004, he has won two bronze medals in the 5km walking race, and in 2010 won his first silver in the winter biathlon event, which combines skiing and shooting.

This year, he is looking forward to taking on the Transplant Games’ 5km gold and silver medalists in walking.

Mr Whelan said: “At times this year I have been walking faster than him [the silver medalist] in training. Whether that transpires on the day remains to be seen, but that is the thing about sport, it is a drama.

“I think next year I will be faster than him, it needs a good piece of winter training. I have always believed that medals are won in the winter and collected in the summer.”

He added that there is a great sense of competitive spirit at the games.

“I am passionate about getting gold, but it is equally about transplant advocacy,” he said.

“They save and transform lives, and having benefited from that, it is important to me to raise the profile of transplant sports so other people sign the transplant register.”

l To become an organ donor visit or call 0300 123 23 23