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Teaching and Skydiving with Matt
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The Accident 

On the last day that I walked, I was in Virginia Beach to play a series of beach volleyball tournaments over the Memorial Day weekend.  It was Saturday, May 27 1989.  After playing in that day’s tournament, a group of friends and I went out for dinner and a night of barhopping on the beach’s main strip.  Somewhere after midnight, on the way back to the car we stopped at an amusement called bumper boats several blocks off the main strip.  As we were leaving, I was walking along the side of the pool and my doubles partner pushed me in -- I instinctively dove into the pool, which was only about 2 1/2 feet deep.  I clearly remember hearing my head hit the bottom of the pool with a dull thud, but I felt absolutely nothing as my head struck the bottom -- the paralysis was instantaneous and complete, leaving me in a dead man's float with a C5-6 SCI.  I was taken to Norfolk General Hospital where I spent two weeks in ICU and a week in a step down unit before enduring an arduous 12 hour ambulance ride that took me to what was then the Elizabethtown Rehabilitation Hospital, where I remained for the next five months.

 

Returning home

 Returning home after six months of living in the seemingly safe cocoon of the hospital was a major transition.  It was fortunate that I had gone home for the weekends over the previous few months so that I could get acclimated to the transition. I also was very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive family as well as supportive friends, especially at that point in time. While I was still in the hospital, a veritable army of volunteers was hard at work converting what was a one car garage into a bedroom and bathroom.  It was small, but it was home.  I don't think anything can truly prepare you for what this injury can strip from you and how dramatically your life changes.  I went from being a totally independent and free spirited individual to someone who required assistance with the most basic functions of life.  That is something that was truly a source of frustration and I can't say in all honesty that the frustration ever totally goes away. But I was home, and I adjusted. 

 

Back to School

For me the next step was to get back to school and to finish my bachelor’s degree in communication studies.  It was never a question of whether I would do it but how (trust me that's not a statement of inspirational optimism, it was just my thought process at that point in time).  Going back to Towson University where I had been previously was my main focus.  In going back to school, I can't emphasize strongly enough how supportive and accommodating the faculty, staff and university were overall.  It wasn't an easy process by any stretch of the imagination, but it was so much easier going back to a place with which I was familiar and where I had friendships and relationships established.   Other then the minor physical accommodations made by the university, the key to getting back was recruiting other students from the nursing and occupational therapy programs (as well as students in general) that could serve as is attendants.  All in all it went incredibly smoothly, mostly because of the people that I knew and met as a result of the process.

 

After graduating from Towson, I decided to pursue my masters at the University of Maryland.  Having been through this process once before I thought I would just duplicate the same system I had used at Towson.  Much to my chagrin, it didn't work out as smoothly.  To say the two years I was at Maryland were rocky would be an understatement.  I had difficulty finding and retaining reliable people to assist me especially my first semester, not to mention that living in an apartment with four other guys was an interesting exercise.  As opposed to the embrace that I encountered at Towson, at Maryland I felt I was met with much more apathy which made the whole process all the more difficult.  Somehow, with the help of my family, some good people I did happen to meet, and the faculty in my department I made it through, which made the success all the sweeter especially in retrospect. 

 

Employment

I had pursued a master's degree based on the rationale that would make me more competitive in the workplace.  I was quite aware that I was going to need something to set me apart from other candidates and to combat any discrimination that I might encounter.  Finding work was difficult even with the two degrees under my belt.  I submitted countless resumes and sat through a seemingly endless parade of interviews in York, Lancaster and Harrisburg honing my interview skills through sheer repetition.  I did find gainful employment -- I've had a number of jobs, some part-time and others full time, but in the end I stumbled upon an opportunity that seemingly made sense to everybody but me at the time -- teaching.  In 2000, I began teaching marketing and public speaking at Bradley Academy for the Visual Arts (now the Art Institute of York Pennsylvania).  In 2003, I began teaching human communications at York College and public speaking at Harrisburg Area Community College.  Currently, I teach full-time at the Art Institute of York Pennsylvania and as an adjunct at York College. 

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Hobbies

My favorite hobby at the moment is probably skydiving.  I've been jumping for about three years and have made about 18 jumps.  Unfortunately I can't jump independently, so I've been doing tandem jumps. It's a liberating feeling to jump into a plane, leave the chair behind and speed down the runway sitting next to an open door and as the plane takes off on the way up to 14,000 feet.  After a 20 minute flight, it’s out the door for a sixty-second freefall of pure freedom and bliss. At 5000 feet, you pop the canopy and suddenly the incredible view of the landscape below is there laid out in front of you as far as you can see as you gently sail back to Earth.  It's pure bliss.

I used to enjoy road racing, but in all honesty the amount of work it took to get into the racing chair and to tape up my gloves outweighed the enjoyment of the actual sport.  I enjoy lifting and working out at home or at the gym, but it's been a few months since I've been there.  Others simple things I enjoy doing: playing with my nieces, reading, video editing, etc.

Average Day

My classes start at nine or ten o'clock most days and proceed until five o'clock (or later on the nights I have my night class).  I usually wake up at 6:15 so I can cath before whoever is going to assist me in that morning arrives -- most of the girls that are currently helping me are nursing students at York College.  (Faculty members in the Nursing Department half been extremely helpful over the last few years in helping me find potential candidates -- but it's always an ongoing challenge finding and recruiting people – it’s definitely one of the major stresses of my day to day life.)   At any rate, once I’m basically dressed in, it's time to go through range of motion.  Because I have a fairly high level of spasticity my legs tend to be very tight in the morning.  I almost always do at least some range of motion depending on how much time I have.  Once we've stretched for 10 minutes a leg or so it's time to jump out of bed.  Once we swing my legs around, I get the person that's assisting me to hold my legs straight and lift slightly while I transfer.  In spite of everything I try, I never seem to be able to get myself in a seating position that is comfortable.  It's definitely one of the major frustrations that I deal with every morning and every day.  Once I brush my teeth, shave and grab breakfast, I'll cath, put on a shirt and hurry up the door, and jump into the van and off to work I go…

  

I don’t have everything figured out, not by a long shot.

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