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Shetland’s Zoe Buchanan is going for gold at World Transplant Games for her lifesaving mum

Zoe Buchanan in action
Zoe Buchanan in action

AN athlete who was told as a child that she might never walk has defied medical odds by getting her sporting career back on track three times.

Zoe Buchanan, 21, from Lerwick, Shetland, has experienced numerous setbacks including kidney failure, a transplant, and problems with her heart.

But she has bounced back every time – and is going for gold again this summer at the World Transplant Games.

The former badminton and table tennis world champion puts her success down to sheer determination, one of her mother’s kidneys – and an inspirational gran who was a huge hit on the court in her heyday.

“It’s been a rollercoaster, but I love sport and can’t function without it in my life,” Zoe said. “The only way I’ll give up is if someone prises the racquet from my hand!”

Zoe, who took up badminton aged seven, has had to find motivation to keep going since her earliest years.

Weighing just 3lbs 13oz, she was born with Russell-Silver Syndrome, a disorder causing poor growth and size differences in the two sides of the body.

One of her kidneys was three times the size of the other and she had just 33% function between the two.

By the time she was 14, Zoe was diagnosed with end stage renal failure.

Loving mum, Jill Nicolson, volunteered one of her own organs after it was revealed she would need a transplant.

The surgery saved her life.

Recovery, however, meant taking time out from her beloved sport.

Zoe spent months in hospital but returned to the court and, less than a year after the operation, scooped gold for Scotland at the British Transplant Games.

In 2013, she claimed the badminton and table tennis world titles for Great Britain in South Africa.

However, Zoe’s hopes of further glory were seemingly shattered when she was diagnosed with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy.

“If I put too much strain on my heart, it would stop,” she explained.

“When doctors said I’d need to give up sport, I was devastated. It was like telling a fish not to swim.”

The determined youth suggested a slow return to sports and gradually began building up her fitness.

A gold in the badminton doubles at the 2014 British Transplant Games spurred her on. But her heart troubles again came to a head and she spent most of the next year in hospital.

Last year, Zoe made yet another comeback, and now she’s determined to make up for lost time.

In the build-up to the games, she has to make her way to Coventry for training sessions with Team GB.

It’s a long way to travel – just getting to the mainland entails a 12-hour boat trip – but Zoe couldn’t be more focused.

“I love sport and am determined to be the best that I can, but I just want to make my mum proud. She’s my hero – and has given me life twice over. I can’t thank her enough.”

To support Zoe in her quest, visit