Seize the Day

My eyes filled with tears of sheer joy as I looked at my fellow float riders who have overcome so much in life, like myself. I have never been surrounded by so many kindred spirits; people who know what it is like to fight for their life, and who know how much life is worth fighting for. We were on the Donate Life Float in the 2011 Pasadena Tournament of Roses 122nd Rose Parade. As we waved to the 750,000 to a million people lining the streets of Pasadena, it gave me a renewed sense of hope, a feeling of being invincible and a desire to take on the world.

Building Dreams, Friendships & Memories was the theme of the 2011 Pasadena Tournament of Roses 122nd Rose Parade. The Donate Life Float won the Theme Trophy and this theme beautifully summed up my experience as a winner of the Astellas “Ride of A Lifetime” contest.

In June 2010, I submitted an essay on the Transplant Experience website on how my life has been changed by transplantation, and I was selected as one of the five winners in the United States, representing the west region.

Astellas sent my husband, Noah, and myself to Pasadena, CA for 5 nights where we had the time of our lives. I have so many favorite moments from the trip: one was the dinner where we first met all of the other float riders. Each rider shared his or her personal story and it was such a moving and emotional evening! Noah and I also had the honor of helping to decorate the Donate Life float. I had the privilege of helping to place the floragraphs on the float. I was grateful to be asked by Astellas to be a guest speaker and share my story to the 500 guests at the Donate Life Float Gala.

Each day in Pasadena was so memorable leading up to New Year’s Day! The feeling of excitement was overwhelming as we were all sitting on the float New Year’s morning and it started to roll toward Colorado Street. I’ll never forget when the float made a right-hand turn on Colorado Street, and we were astonished to see so many news cameras, photographers and more people than I have ever seen in my entire life! I have never smiled so much in a 4-hour timeframe. My heart was over-flowing with happiness and gratefulness. I had never felt more alive.

People held up their CA driver’s license to show their pink donor dot, which in CA represents that they have registered to be an organ donor. Others were very emotional, with tears streaming down their cheeks. Some held up Donate Life t-shirts. They were yelling “thank you,” “we love you,” and were waving with huge smiles on their faces. People were standing on the streets and on top of buildings! I thoroughly enjoyed making eye contact and connecting with individual people in the crowd and seeing how excited they got when they knew we were waving directly at them. I was holding a picture of my kidney donor, Sally, and it said, “I love my living donor.” People would look at Sally’s picture and read out loud, “I love my living donor!” which put a huge smile on my face knowing that not only was Sally’s kidney riding with me New Year’s Day, but the world was able to see the beautiful face of the amazing woman that saved my life and gave me a second chance at life.

The whole trip was a celebration of life! The theme of the Donate Life Float was “Seize the Day.” To seize the day is to live life fully and that is how I live my life and intend to for the rest of my days. Carpe Diem!


  1. Deanna Santana

    Valen, Once again my eyes welled up with tears thinking about how lovingly you placed the floragraphs. Looking into the eyes of the donors and thanking each one. That really touches my soul! Deanna

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Deanna,
      I got goosebumps reading your message. Thank you very much! That means so much coming from you!!! I admire your strength and how you are living your life positively. Big hugs!!!

  2. Vicki

    You are an inspiration. You have met some truly amazing people as well! You are a great example to so many people! Thanks!

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Vicki,
      Thank you for this wonderful message to kick off my week on a positive note! I am grateful for the second chance at life I have been given and all of the amazing opportunities that have come with it. 🙂

  3. Victoria

    Perfect post for a Monday! Thanks, Valen- I’m off the seize the day 🙂

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Victoria,
      Smiling big! Thank you so much! Happy Monday! 🙂


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