SEASIDE — This weekend, Nicole Andergard is taking a long walk.

She will be joined by 11 teammates, known as the Transplant Trotters, and 20,399 others who are all heading to the same location on the same day: Seaside Saturday.

 It’s the 30th annual Hood to Coast Relay, which began on Mount Hood this morning and ends on the beach Saturday, when all the runners and walkers cross the finish line amid cheers of congratulations from thousands of spectators.

For the walkers, like Andergard, the relay begins in Portland and ends 130 miles later.

At age 37, Andergard is healthy. She could probably join any team heading to the coast. But to belong to the Transplant Trotters, a member must meet certain qualifications.

Sponsored by Donate Life Northwest, the Transplant Trotters team takes only organ donors or recipients. It includes seven kidney recipients and three liver recipients and four organ donors, including Andergard.

 She didn’t set out to be an organ donor, but when her best friend since childhood needed a kidney, Andergard readily offered hers.

“We grew up in Warrenton,” Andergard said about her and her best friend, Anna Lytle. “Our families are still there. We met when we were 5 years old, and we instantly hit it off.”

Both were left-handed. Both had dark hair and blue eyes. Both even had birthmarks on their backs.

The girls attended grade school together, spent summer days at Cullaby Lake, rode their bikes to Fort Stevens, joined Camp Fire Girls, made up dance routines, and, with their birthdays only five days apart, they celebrated together.

Even when Lytle moved to the Seattle area before entering ninth grade, the two girls remained in contact. When Andergard’s husband, Scott, proposed to her, Lytle was there. When Lytle gave birth to her son, Andergard was among the first to hold him.

Then, on Oct. 31, 2000, Lytle was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. Inflammation occurs, and the kidneys often are a target.

Lytle first went to the doctor complaining of fatigue and feeling swollen. “I was working 50 and 60 hours a week and I had a 5-year-old son; I figured that’s why I was fatigued. But when my whole body became swollen, that’s when I went to the doctor,” she said.

The doctor told her that her kidneys were retaining water and the disease was already pretty advanced. Lytle went through chemotherapy treatments but had to stop those because “I wasn’t handling them well.”

 During Lupus “flares” she couldn’t move and didn’t want to eat. She was sick for seven years, and eventually, Lytle was hospitalized for two weeks and hooked up to an IV. Her body had retained nearly 25 pounds of fluid, and she only had 2 percent of kidney function left. She immediately went on dialysis and became eligible for a kidney transplant.

As soon as Andergard learned her friend needed a transplant she offered her own kidney. Her husband also offered; in fact, they had a little tussle over it.

 But the tests came back and showed that Andergard matched four of six antigens – genetic markers – with Lytle’s antigens. The match meant that Lytle would have to take fewer anti-rejection medicines.

The doctors were so shocked at the rare match that they retested Andergard twice. “Even in twins that’s a really good match,” Lytle said. “This was a relationship that was meant to be.”

The transplant occurred Nov. 7, 2007, and every year since then, the two women celebrate their “transplantiversary” together.

“We take a weekend and go somewhere, just the two of us,” Lytle said.

After the transplant, Andergard decided to join Donate Life Northwest (formerly the Oregon Donor Program) to urge people to become designated organ, eye and tissue donors.

“I wanted to show them that you can live a healthy life before and after a transplant,” said Andergard, who volunteers as a spokeswoman for the Portland-based nonprofit.

It was while training to become a spokesman that Andergard, who had participated earlier in the Hood to Coast Relay, learned about the Transplant Trotters.

This is the 10th year that the Trotters have participated in the relay, and because of that anniversary, Hood to Coast founder Bob Foote decided to share his experience as two-time kidney recipient.

Lupus also “killed my kidneys” said Foote, whose first transplant was in 1988. When that kidney failed, he went on dialysis for 1.5 years until he received another kidney in 1991. It was then that he decided to give up the pressure that running his large architectural business entailed and turn his full-time attention to the Hood to Coast Relay.

 “It was the best decision I ever made,” Foote said.

Like Foote, Anna Lytle has gone on to maintain her health since the transplant. Although she exercises, she doesn’t run.

“I’ve never been a runner,” Lytle said.

 But she admires Andergard for her participation in the Hood to Coast Relay and her work with Donate Life Northwest. “I think it’s amazing; I love that she does that,” she added.

Lytle also is grateful for the gift of life Andergard gave her.

“She’s the best friend I could ever ask for,” Lytle said.