Brave Merritt racing against time and kidney disease

Olympic champion Aries Merritt (far right) said this may be his last World Championships if his kidney transplant on Tuesday does not go well. But the American is aiming for the Rio Olympics.
Olympic champion Aries Merritt (right) said this may be his last World Championships if his kidney transplant on Tuesday does not go well. But the American is aiming for the Rio Olympics.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • Two years ago, Olympic champion Aries Merritt of the United States was told he would never run again after being diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.

Yesterday, the 30-year-old stormed into the Athletics World Championships' 110m hurdles final with a gutsy display in his penultimate race before undergoing a kidney transplant next week.

The American clocked a season-best 13.08 seconds to win his semi-final in the quickest overall time for today's final in Beijing.

But he faces a bigger hurdle when he has surgery on Tuesday.

The disease, caused by a rare genetic disorder found predominantly in African-Americans, has damaged his organ to such an extent that he has to replace it with one of his sister's kidneys in Arizona.

"I'm here for mental sanity more than anything," said Merritt, who struck Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games with a 12.92sec effort, before setting a world record time of 12.80sec a month later.

"I don't want to be sitting in my house awaiting surgery. I'd rather be out living life to the fullest. Who knows, this could potentially be my last championship if surgery doesn't go well. But I'm optimistic that I'll be back and able to train for the Rio Olympics."

After struggling for most of 2013, Merritt's health deteriorated after the World Championships in Moscow. His kidney function was down to just 15 per cent when he checked in to a hospital before his weight also plummeted.

He returned to competition in May last year after months of treatment. His kidney function is currently less than 20 per cent, and he feels 75 per cent overall compared to his 2012 form.

"When they told me I'd never run again, my whole world ended in my mind," said the Chicago native, who has also bounced back from five hamstring tears in two seasons.

"To not know whether I was going to be able to run again and then here I am running shows me that I'm a fighter and that I can overcome anything if I stay positive."

Russia's two-time European champion Sergey Shubenkov was second-fastest yesterday in 13.09sec, with defending champion David Oliver joint sixth in 13.17sec.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Brave Merritt racing against time and kidney disease'. Print Edition | Subscribe