Illinois coach gets new kidney from one of his runners

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Rich Matula was in dire need. The longtime track and training coach needed a kidney transplant. Now, one of his runners has given him a healthy new life.

A longtime track and training coach in need of a kidney transplant got the gift of life thanks to one of his runners.

Rich Matula was in failing health and in need of a miracle.

"My kidney function was down to 12 percent," he said. "Usually people start (under)going dialysis under 15, so I was probably six months, maybe eight months away from needing dialysis."

His failing kidney was due to a disease he's had since birth, and he had no way to know when or even if he would be able to get a new one.

But there was always running.

"It's changed my life in terms of most of my best friends are runners, most of the people I hang around with socially are runners," he said. "I think just in terms of health, it's make a tremendous impact. I mean it's been my passion pretty much my entire adult life."

Michael Blake was drawn to running, too, and was coached by Matula as part of the Tinley Track and Trail runners for years. When he heard about Matula's condition, he did the extraordinary.

"The fact that I could affect Rich's life or anyone's life that wasn't directly related to me felt really good," Blake said. "Plus, he was a good friend, and to be able to help a good friend out felt really good."

Last week, the two underwent the operation that gave Matula a new lease on life.

"It's almost like a second chance at life," he said. "I kind of look at it as two chapters. The lab technician told me yesterday, you've got two birthdays now. You've got your original one and the one on January 9."

And Blake feels blessed to help.

"I am getting definitely something out of this, because I feel blessed to be able to help him out," Blake said. "He got a kidney. I got the feeling of being blessed to be able to help someone out."

Matula and Blake have won several medals throughout their races, and the two say they'll be back on the course - together - in no time.

"I'm chomping at the bit," Matula said. "I haven't beat Mike in a long time, so that's one of my goals. Maybe not this year, but next year."
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