NEW MADRID -- New Madrid County Central senior Hunter Borton will perform in front of an audience of 10,000 people this weekend at the opening ceremonies of the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh, Pa.
According to the event's Web site, the games are an Olympic-style event for athletes who have received life-saving organ transplants of every type -- kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas and bone marrow. Transplant athletes will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in 12 different sports, including track and field, swimming, tennis, basketball, cycling and golf.
Borton performed at an organ donation function in St. Louis recently called the Sunday Sabbath. With encouragement from Mid America Transplant Services, which hosted the event, he said he sent in a CD of himself singing to the national foundation, hoping to be able to sing the National Anthem at the games.
After no news of the decision for quite a while, Borton thought he wasn't chosen to perform. But when his mom received a call with the news about six weeks ago, he said he was "ecstatic."
Borton's mother, Beth, described the news as "very emotional."
Organ donation is something close to the Bortons' hearts. Hunter's father, Ralph, died three years ago and his organs were donated. His mother called the opportunity for Hunter to sing at the event an "honor and tribute to his dad."
Along with singing at the opening ceremonies, Borton, his mother and his two siblings, Elias and Hilary, are participating in the 5K run. While he hasn't prepared much for the run, he said it is something he is looking forward to. Mrs. Borton added that the 5K is one of the few things donor families can participate in because most of the games are strictly for transplant recipients.
She noted it is "very rare" to go to the Games as a donor family. In fact, in the 100 or so people going to Pittsburgh from St. Louis and the surrounding areas, only eight of them are members of donor families. The Bortons make up half of that eight.
Borton will sing Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" on Saturday night, a song that he said he is familiar with already and didn't take long to "get it down." He described how fitting the song is for the games.
"People there have had organ transplants or have donated organs. They've had a second chance at life," he said.
However, this will be the first time Borton performs with a live band rather than just a CD track, and it will be his biggest audience.
"I haven't sang in front of that many people before," he said, noting that his biggest audience yet was 2,000 people at the St. Louis event.
Nervous or not, performing at the Transplant Games is a big opportunity for Borton, with special meaning because of his father.
"It really means a lot to me," he said. "And, I know it would mean a lot to him.".