“I will play every golf course in Scotland to raise money for Kidney Research UK”
Barry Smith has always loved golf, but following his kidney and pancreas transplant in November 2019, the 41-year-old said it’s given him a “new lease of life”. Ahead of this World Kidney Day (Thursday 9 March), Barry is calling out for support for his challenge of playing every single course in Scotland – 580 in total – in aid of Kidney Research UK.
A new lease of life
“I’ve flirted with golf on and off my whole life but I put my clubs away when I was diagnosed with kidney failure at the age of 32 as I didn’t have the energy to play anymore,” says Barry. “But after my double transplant, I was looking for a way to keep fit. I bought an exercise bike, but it very quickly just became something for me to hang my clothes on. Then my son Scott, who was 21 at the time, bought a set of golf clubs and pushed me to get back into it.”
However, it wasn’t long before Barry, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was just 11 years old, got bored of playing on the same course. After meeting a fellow golf enthusiast on Facebook, he set himself the challenge of playing every course in Scotland. “There are 580 courses,” he says. ‘I’ve played 203 so I’ve got 377 to go!”
Barry, whose golf handicap is an impressive 6.9, works as a deputy manager for Royal Mail and comes from Newarthill, Lanarkshire. He has been with his partner Sarah for 24 years and also has a 14-year-old daughter Erin. They thought I was mad before I set this challenge!” he laughs. “They’re very supportive though.”
He explains that he has to take his challenge slowly as it is costly. “Golf can be expensive and I don’t have the finances to be able do it all at once, so I haven’t put a time limit on it.”
The dad of two is the first to admit that his family have had to cope with a lot of stress over the years, caused by his health issues. While he fought hard to control his diabetes with medication, it wasn’t always easy and his partner and children became very familiar with the signs that his blood sugar levels had dropped.
“Everything we do as a family is more relaxed now,” says Barry. “I don’t get stared at anymore! My family would be watching me all the time in case I was about to have a hypo (hypoglycaemia, when your blood sugar is too low). I’d think I was fine but the next thing I’d know, I’d be lying on the couch and my partner would be pouring Lucozade down my neck. I couldn’t go a day without thinking about my condition and neither could they.”
Check up spots kidney failure
It was at a routine check up at the diabetic clinic back in 2013 when Barry’s doctor tested his kidney function and shortly afterwards he got a call with the result. He says, “They confirmed my kidney function had dropped 9-10%. I knew it was inevitable that I’d need a transplant at some point as both my kidneys were failing. But it wasn’t until five years later that I had to start dialysis.”
While his children knew what was going on, Barry, who had dialysis three times a week, was keen to shield them from the details. He says, “Haemodialysis meant I could still take the kids swimming without tubes hanging out of me.”
That said, his entire family were involved in his decision to have a pancreas transplant at the same time as a kidney transplant. Barry says that once the doctors had explained to him why it would be beneficial to do both, he was left in no doubt. “The pros of having a pancreas transplant outweighed the cons. Having a new pancreas would mean I wouldn’t have to treat my diabetes anymore.”
A new start at a normal life
He explains, “It’s not just my life that’s changed since the operation, it’s everyone round about me whose lives have changed too. There’s no more worrying and I can live a normal life. I’ve been given a new start.”
Barry’s challenge is an opportunity to celebrate his second chance as well as staying healthy in the process. He says, “It’s not just about golf, it’s about human connection.” For him, it’s as much about raising awareness as it is about inviting people to contribute to his fundraising page. As well as supporting the charity’s fundraising, he’s keen that on World Kidney Day people take the opportunity to sign up for Kidney Research UK’s free Kidney Kit, which is filled with recipes and accessible exercises tailored to kidney patients’ needs.
He wants more kidney patients to find the benefits of looking after their wellbeing, as he has. “Golf is a great sport to keep you fit,” he says. “You walk miles around a golf course but you don’t think of it as exercise. Other patients might need a bit more inspiration to help them manage their condition, and this kit is just the thing.”
Brogan Ritchie, community fundraising manager at Kidney Research UK, said: “We love Barry’s positive, can-do attitude – his challenge is inspiring to us all. Being a kidney patient is tough and sometimes scary, but our funded research has shown the difference exercise can make to your physical and mental health, whether you are playing 580 golf courses or following a simple tailored workout. Our Kidney Kit is just one way people can benefit from the scientific work we fund every year.”
Barry says: “I hope that when people see me walking round a golf course in my Kidney Research UK t-shirt, they might feel inspired to contribute to the charity or to come and chat. Golf has given me a new lease of life since my transplant and I love it.”
You can contribute to Barry’s fundraising page here: https://donate.givetap.co.uk/f/kidney-research-uk/fundraise-for-us/golfing-memories
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