Racing and Dancing for My Sister

By Cheryl Waltman | Feb. 28, 2017, 11:53 a.m. (ET)

Cheryl Waltman 

As a four-time IRONMAN triathlete, previous NCAA Division I cross country & track athlete, mom and health care provider, I would like to share my story.

My father was the first one to realize that my career path has taken me through each of the events my sister experienced on the night of her fatal car accident. The day I told my parents I was going to be a physician assistant on the transplant team at Hartford Hospital, my father gave me a long hug and replied, "it’s amazing that your sister still continues to influence you. You have now experienced every event the night of the accident. You volunteered as an EMT, you worked as an ER patient care technician, you went to school to become a physician assistant, and you worked as an ER physician assistant. You even did a ride along on Life Star, the helicopter ambulance that took your sister to the hospital. Now you are about to work for the transplant team at the same hospital where your sister was an organ and tissue donor."

Cheryl WaltmanI took a deep breath as a tear rolled down my cheek. I never realized my career path was following her timeline. But it is true. My sister was 16 years old when she passed away. I was only 12. Although my sister was only physically present for 12 years of my life, she is, and always will be, my heart and soul. Her presence was an unforgettable influence on my life. For years she helped tutor me during homework time and helped me learn dance — ballet, tap and jazz. She taught me how to ride my first bike and she was an avid runner. She sparked my interest in cross country and track. My sister was very active in the local Girls Scout troop, taking part in community service and contributing in any way she could, often bringing me along for the adventure. One of her most memorable gestures was the day she got her driver’s license and decided to sign up to be an organ and tissue donor. The idea that she would ever think so far in advance was unsettling. But still, she insisted, if anything happened to her, she wished to give life to others in need. Reflecting back on this day and my new career, I feel warmth in my heart, knowing this is the right path.

Throughout the years since my sister left this earth, I have continued many pastimes we shared including running and dance. I joined the cross country and track teams in high school and continued on in college to participate in varsity Division I cross country and track for Sacred Heart University. During graduate school I ventured into the multisport world of triathlons and set a life goal of becoming an IRONMAN. My surviving sister has been a key support, we often race together. We participated in the Lake Placid IRONMAN, where we crossed the finish line in stride. We also ran the Hartford Marathon together, where I raised funds in memory of our sister for Donate Life. My new adventure is starting my son into running and triathlons. He completed his first IronKid Race where we crossed the finish line in stride. 

It has now been over three years since I joined the kidney and liver transplant team at Hartford Hospital. Every time I step foot into the hospital, I feel as though I am continuing my sister's last good deed while on earth. By being an organ and tissue donor, my sister extended the lives of patients in need. Each organ and tissue donor can affect the lives of over 50 people! She gave patients more days — possibly years — with their loved ones. I realize now that my sister was wise beyond the age of 16. Today, I continue to spread the word to family and friends that they can indefinitely change the lives of others by being a registered organ and tissue donor, and by making sure their wishes are known. To help raise awareness and funds for the organization Donate Life, I volunteered to participate in the Donate Life Gala. This is a black tie gala with a Dancing With the Stars twist. My dance partner and I are raising funds via votes on our web page leading up to the event. On the night of the gala, March 3, we will perform with a panel of judges to see which couple has the best moves. If you have a moment, please click here for our vote page to read about the importance of organ donation, to vote for our duo (each dollar = one vote), or purchase tickets to the event.

On behalf of myself, my dance partner, and most of all, my sister, thank you. 

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