By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– We hear every day in sports, ‘Play every play like it is your last’. We also hear the saying, ‘Live every day like it is your last’, or ‘every day is a blessing’.
I’ve seen Salem Academy’s Peyton Donaldson for sure only once, against Kennedy during her Junior season. Four set match against the Trojans September 3, 2019 that went in favor of Kennedy of Mount Angel.
Never knew anything was off, never knew really that she was playing with a heart transplant until she brought it up because she saw something I said about Bailey Pedersen a while back about Pedersen being a Type-1 Diabetic.
Donaldson was born with an enlarged heart. 10-weeks old and she had the transplant. Human heart. Recovery was several months, almost a year. My daughter is two-and-a-half years old right now as I’m typing this, I can’t imagine her or anyone going through something of that magnitude. Regardless if the individual was as young as Donaldson was, Natalie’s age now or any age at all with anyone.
It’s not all about League Championships or ‘Pursuit for The Blue’. Crap, there were doubts that she would even be able to do athletics on the transplant, but here she was. Senior in High School. A year ago, she was helping the Crusaders to a third-place finish in 3A at the State Tournament for Volleyball.
Saying she is an inspiration is an understatement. It’s more than just that. For Donaldson looks at her situation and herself as a role model.
“It definitely makes you feel special that you can be a role model for those other kids that have gone through the same thing because that shows them it’s possible,” starts Donaldson. “It’s hard don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of hiccups with my health throughout the years during volleyball but it gives you that mentality that you can prove people wrong and it is cool knowing that doctors in the transplant world know you as the one of the many few athletes of the transplant world.”
There was a scare last year when she got sick and had to go to the hospital, but she bounced back. Anything and everything she can to go enjoy the sport she’s loved and grew up playing. Like in sports, those setbacks are just something you learn from and improve upon.
“I just try to be positive and really thank God that he gave me the ability to play the sport I love. You’ll always have set backs but what counts is how you get over them and what you’ve learned from it,” said Donaldson, who goes to Seattle for check-ups every three months.
Donaldson has to be aware of her situation. Being ultra-careful with hardcore conditioning and running, high intensity games as well.
“I have to come off the court for a few seconds to get my heart rate to slow down and then get back onto the court,” said Donaldson. “I just slow my breathing down and try to concentrate on that and drinking Gatorade helps a lot.
“But I try my best to control me breathing when playing and just knowing my limits and not push it too much. It’s definitely scary but I’m healthiest I could be right now which I’m super thankful for.”
Her freshman year Donaldson was the JV setter, was a swing player her sophomore year before becoming starting setter and captain her Junior year.
“Being a captain for this amazing program is definitely a huge blessing and I couldn’t be more thankful for being chosen to fill those shoes,” said Donaldson. “I definitely had some big shoes to fill and every day I was challenged to become a better captain, leader, and teammate.”
Salem Academy went 19-8 in 2019, edging South Umpqua 25-18, 17-25, 25-24, 18-25, 15-12 in a five-set thriller on the heels of a tough five-set battle with State Runner-Up Creswell the night before at Forest Grove High School.
Capping off a season where they recalibrated from their fourth-place team, rallying to finished as strongly as they did.
“Playing at state last year against South Umpqua for third. It was just really intense for those five sets and it was excited to hold that trophy afterwards,” Donaldson said. “It was definitely memorable. It felt good to know all that hard work paid off.
“This program has given me patience, understanding, thinking outside the box, and most importantly learning how to communicate really well. Our team was definitely slept on and our coach always told us it takes some time to get things right, we need to have patience with each other and then everything else will fall into place when it needs too.”
There’s been a lot of obstacles thrown Donaldson’s way already to this point of her young life. Inspiration is an understatement for what she has done to this point, stepping up to every obstacle she has faced and sending them over the net like a ball. It hasn’t been easy no doubt, but it has taught her a lot about herself going through what she is going through.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald