Seven months ago he gave his brother a kidney. Next week he does Ironman.
Ironman, university student, athlete, TriSports.com employee… organ donor: 26 year old Antonio Soto.
Soto is a quiet and dignified lad. His voice floats to your ear on a Latin accent. He is given to understatement. Think Enrique Iglesias combined with Mark Allen. As Antonio and I chat he hands me celery sticks, alternates between looking me in the eye and glancing to the floor.
Antonio’s mother died when he was one and a half. His brother, Gerardo, was only six months. Gerardo contracted SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly called “lupus”. He fought the disease for years until he was forced onto a dialysis machine for 6 hours a day. For nine months. During the search for a kidney Antonio was initially disqualified as a match. Another donor was found, but fell through since they smoked. A subsequent blood test revealed that Antonio was, in fact, a match to donate a kidney to his brother.
I wondered how Soto’s brother asked him to donate a kidney. “He didn’t”, Soto whispered. “He didn’t want me to donate it.”
“How did you make the decision to give away a kidney?” I’ve never asked an athlete this question before.
Soto glanced back to the floor, pulled another celery stick from the baggy. “You have to know… what is your priority? No sport is as important as my brother.”
The Soto sense of family emanates from Tigre Soto, Antonio and Gerardo’s father. Tigre was a competitive canoeist, a difficult and dangerous sport of negotiating rapids in a highly maneuverable hybrid of canoe and kayak. He sometimes trained with Antonio in the back of his canoe. It is obvious those early days between the Soto men forged tight bonds- the type of bonds rare in today’s families.
This weekend I rode with Antonio- me on the back of a camera moto, Antonio on his Giant Trinity triathlon bike. The ride was a combined photo op/meet and greet for BH sponsored athletes Eneko Llanos and Angela Naeth. You may remember Llanos for his gutsy battle in Kona with winner Chris McCormack. Antonio rode like a gentleman through town then, when we reached the rollers of McCain Loop, he went to the front. The group dwindled. On the narrow, curvy road riders slid off the back in ones and twos. I asked my moto pilot, Adam McCreight, to take us to the front. A 50 M.P.H. acceleration on our BMW moto pulled us by flailing riders. There were only six men in the lead group. I looked at our speedometer. On a shallow climb we were going 27 M.P.H. Uphill.
Antonio was on the front. Llanos on his wheel. Four men hung on. They looked under pressure. Antonio looked quite relaxed.
On November 27, 2011, 12 days from now, Antonio is racing Ford Ironman Cozumel. Seven months after giving away a kidney. How will losing a kidney affect Antonio’s Ironman? “It won’t” he tells me, “The body adjusts. As long as you drink enough water and do the right things, there is no difference.”
Antonio takes another celery stick from the bag. “It is no problem. Just a race…” It occurs to me, I’ve never heard another Ironman say it quite that way.