This story is part of the USMC/AVCA Battles Won Award series. This new award recognizes volleyball players and coaches who are overcoming obstacles, both on and off the court.
Chris Wakefield, Godwin H.S. Girls Volleyball Coach & Richmond Volleyball Club Juniors Travel Program Manager/RVC 16 National Head Coach
Chris was born with a kidney disease, and after years of going through highs and lows, he needed—and received—a transplant.
Give an overview of what you’ve faced?
“I was born with polycystic kidney disease and diagnosed with it when I was 12 years old. Many years had passed, most of those without issues until 2019 traveling back from Big South that things got bad, and I had to be admitted to the hospital was I arrived in Richmond. My kidney functions started to decline rapidly.”
“A few years went by, and I was just using medication as a form of therapy to slow down the decline. It got to a point where medication wasn’t enough, though, and I needed to a kidney transplant. That was late 2021. I soon started dialysis March of 2022, a nightly routine of hooking up to a machine that would help pull excess fluid and toxins from my body—something my kidneys were no longer doing. In December 2022 I received a kidney transplant from Tammy Wright, the mother of two of my former players. Thankfully, I was only on dialysis for a few shorts months before I received the best news ever!”
When was it most challenging?
“I would say the club and high school coaching while doing dialysis every night was when it was the most challenging. During club season, I traveled with my machine and had to make accommodations for supplies to be delivered to my hotel. Making sure that I had enough hours at night to do my therapy and keep up with coaching was hard.”
“During high school season of 2022, I coached by the JV and varsity teams. That was tough and, at times, I felt like I wasn’t going to make it. But I love what I do so much, and it helped keep my mind of the things I was going through. Seeing my players grow and become the best versions of themselves brings me so much joy that I couldn’t miss out on that!”
What was the most uplifting thing?
“The support I got from the volleyball community. Whether it was local or even when I traveled for club tournaments, I met and made so many friends, and there were so many people in my corner.”
“My high school parents put together a kidney awareness night to help call attention to kidney disease as well as my story. They also started a Go Fund Me campaign on my behalf, and that took some convincing for me to agree with. The main reason I was against it turned out to be the main reason it uplifted me so much: that people wanted to help, but I need to ask.”
How are things now?
“I am feeling fantastic these days! I am able to do the things I want to do and eat what I want to eat. I’m full of life and energy, something that I haven’t had in a long time, but was something I was known for. To feel this way is so hard to describe, because for so long I was used to being so low of energy and fatigued, that it became normal for me.”
Where does volleyball fit in all of this?
“Well having the mother of two of my players being the reason I am here today would be the biggest volleyball connection!”
“During the years things were bad as I traveled to volleyball tournaments, I would be approached by people—mainly players—who would say: ‘Coach you are so happy, why do you smile so much?’ I would share what I was going through, and I told them despite all of it, I have to make time to smile and be happy and just enjoy life. I was happy to share my story ad uplift people that I met along the way.”
Has this impacted you in any other ways?
“The biggest thing that I have changed is that I am now more comfortable asking for help. I’ve struggled with this all my life, and outside of family, there may have only been four people that really knew what was going on with me.”
“I kept it to myself because I didn’t want help from people, and a lot of it was because fear of asking for help and then being turned away. It took a lot for me to finally open up, and I honestly believe that that if I hadn’t, I’d still be looking for kidney now or something even worse.”
- USMC Battles Won Awards