Matt did not come from naturally athletic stock, but in high school he pursued a couple of sports looking for a right fit. Just shy of his 16th birthday, he asked his dad and me if he could take money out of his savings account to buy a bicycle. To say the least, we were surprised. At 16, asking to buy a car fit – but a bicycle?!
Buy a bicycle he did, and Matt found his athletic nitch. He trained hard on his own, hooked up with a group of riders that mentored him, and eventually joined a road bike cycling team. Still not a natural athlete, Matt became a strong and skilled cyclist through his hours of training, his determination and his passion for the sport of cycling and racing.
When Matt was college-bound, he chose UW Madison. I like to think that at least part of his choice was due to the excellent academic opportunity, but the realist in me knows that the driving force was the UW Cycling Team. Matt rode for UW Madison and when the collegiate season ended, he raced with the IS Corp team.
In June of 2004, Matt crashed during a race and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He spent the next 11 days in a coma; the outlook for recovery, much less a full recovery, was not good. But, Matt wasn’t done. He fought his way back so quickly that he was able to return to UW Madison in the fall for his second year. Matt worked hard academically and physically that winter. Spring found Matt and his bike released from the monotony of the indoor trainer – back on the road and racing again.
It was the end of the school year; final exam week. Matt was looking forward to the summer racing season and we were looking forward to his coming home. Saturday, May 7, 2005 was a glorious spring day – warm and sunny – the kind of day we Wisconsinites dream about all winter. Matt called in the morning to tell me that he was going to head off to a race that day. We bantered and I tried to convince him that studying for his finals might be more productive. Of course, Matt was not going to be dissuaded. He just laughed and told me that riding was just what he needed to help him relax so that he could get down to studying. Off he went with a promise to call me when the race was done. That was our deal after his accident the summer before – he raced and I got an “all clear” call.
I was out running errands when my cell rang and I figured it was Matt upholding his end of the bargain after the race. But, it wasn’t Matt. The call was the one that stills the heart of every parent – Matt went down during the race and was being airlifted to the hospital. Yes, as incredible as it still seems, Matt suffered another traumatic brain injury, but we soon learned there would be no recovery from this one.
I need to take you back a couple of years. Matt did get a road bike and cycling license when he was 16, but he also got his driver’s license. And on that driver’s license, he had his “Dot” along with his signature. We knew Matt’s wish and now as a family, we were determined to honor his wish, and his hours of hard work over the last year to rebuild his body. Matt’s next achievement and his legacy to this world would not come in life, but in death. He was going to achieve what so few can – Matt’s strong athletic body would become a gift to others.
There is a woman that can breathe on her own and travel again due to Matt’s gift of lungs.
There is a young man who is no longer a diabetic due to Matt’s gift of a kidney and pancreas.
There is a young man who can once again compete in Special Olympics due to Matt’s gift of a kidney.
There is a woman – mother – who no longer suffers from liver disease due to Matt’s gift.
And there is a young man, whose heart is now that of a warrior.
Five lives saved – five miracles. Matt’s final gift to this world!
Four years later, there isn’t a day goes by that Matt’s brothers, Dad, I don’t miss him unbearably, but I can still hear his laugh and see his impish grin and it warms my heart. We will continue to love him from now until forever. Our lives go on without him, but other’s lives go on because of him. We couldn’t be more proud!