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Topeka 63-year-old chases own unofficial 100m world record after double kidney transplant

Published: Jun. 9, 2021 at 10:04 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Lei Sowell, 60, didn’t feel good about his 100-meter dash performance when he crossed the finish line in Salt Lake City in August, 2018.

“Then I saw my name, and it said 11.45,” Lei remembers. “I didn’t believe it. I was thinking, ‘Awh man, I ran slow.’ Because I was thinking 12. And I said ‘Wait a minute, 11.4? I just broke the record.’ And I just lost it.”

Along with breaking the meet record that day, the Topeka High graduate set the unofficial world record in the 100 for men 60 and older.

“The world record is 11.7. I ran 11.45. Even if you took electronic time and added it on there, I still broke the record,” he said. “They didn’t give me the official world record because a track & field master was not there.”

That race meant a lot to Lei, who at one point didn’t know if he’d ever step on the track again.

“You gotta keep moving. You don’t move, you stop,” he said. “And I didn’t mention, I had a kidney transplant.”

Lei was diagnosed with Lupus in 2006. He spent two years on dialysis.

“I had end-stage 4 kidney failure,” Lei said. “I rode the bike at dialysis. Don’t nobody ride the bike at dialysis. I did. I said, ‘I’m getting out of here.’”

And he did. Lei underwent a double kidney transplant in 2012.

“I said, ‘I’m not done yet.’ So I kept going,” he said.

Four days later, he was back on the track.

“I couldn’t move very fast, but I had my pillow and I walked around one time. I just wanted to see if I could,” he said. “Then the next time it was two, then three, then four, then I started sprinting. I said, ‘Okay, I’m back.’”

Lei traded letters with the family of the three-year-old girl who became his donor after her passing.

Someday, he’ll tell them face-to-face what he has done with his second chance at life.

“One of these days I’ll meet them and show them,” he said.

In the meantime, Lei continues to chase his goals. He hopes to beat his own record this year and set a new one in the 200-meter.

“There are some 100-year-old guys that still sprint. So I got a long ways to go,” Lei said. “Until these legs fall off, I’m going to still be doing it.”

Lei will compete in the Iowa Senior Games this weekend. He’ll also take part in the Transplant Games of America next month.

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