For some people, the desire to help others has always been a part of who they are, even from a young age. For others, that desire stems from life experiences and a longing to give something back after receiving help themselves.
It’s possible that only Matt Rich knows which camp he falls into, but everyone who gets to know him knows he is motivated by something larger than himself. As a musician, personal trainer, athlete and motivational speaker, it’s clear that Rich is well-versed in the act of giving of himself to others.
As the most recent recipient of the “I Define Me” award, Matt Rich is an example of someone you want on your team, in your band or at your dinner table.
Parking Lot to Finish Line
At age 28, Matt Rich took his first unassisted steps toward his mother. A few months later, Rich walked across the Liberty Boxing parking lot in Washington Township, N.J. As a man living with cerebral palsy, these are milestones he would not soon forget.
They also don’t come without sweat and blood.
Rich isn’t the type of person who quits when he falls down, which he literally did many times on his way to a self-imposed finish line. That’s one of the many things that helps him define himself by his own standards. Rich is not interested in limitations imposed on him by others. Whereas some might take solace in a first step, Rich is already thinking of the next goal.
The satisfaction of crossing the parking lot was short-lived as Rich began working harder. He trains wearing a backpack with more weight than most able-bodied people would be comfortable with. He’s not interested in being comfortable. He’s interested in pushing himself beyond his limits. In fact, his limits don’t last very long. What once was a parking lot very soon became miles.
Since 2010, Rich has competed in 12 races — five one-milers and seven three-mile 5Ks.
He competes for himself and for others. He wants others with cerebral palsy to see what is possible if they work hard enough. Though some people might be unable to finish a full race, the point for him seems to be growth. Every man or woman can go further if they have the courage to leave their own personal status quo behind.
Rich competes in races to bring awareness to a number of disabilities. Despite the fact he finished his first races long after the crowds had dispersed and most racers had gone home, his goal soon reached far beyond merely crossing the finish line. These days, he keeps track of his times and tries to better them in each race.
In a race last year, a Walk, Run and Wheel 5K to support Washington Township’s HollyDELL School for children and young adults with physical disabilities, he broke his personal time record. It was a special moment for him, and understandably so when you know how he trains.
Rich has been called a local celebrity by his training partner, LaCarr Hamilton, who runs races with him and helps him notice flaws in the road that might otherwise trip him up. Rich and Hamilton create training routines and focus on ways to get stronger and faster together. They believe most physical disabilities can be overcome with mental toughness and smart training.
Rich trains every day, doing push ups, sit-ups and sprints. He also walks on a treadmill in his apartment in an attempt to strengthen his legs and of course get ready for his next race.
“He does these races not for himself, but for other children and other disabled people he knows may not get the chance to run or participate,” Hamilton told the Courier-Post.
More Than an Athlete
Since the age of five, Rich has been interested in singing. Being in the school choir in middle school helped him gain confidence in his abilities. Fishing trips with his dad and brothers fostered his love for music at an early age.
“Growing up, I always went on fishing trips, me, my dad and two brothers, Andrew and Patrick. They would pack all the neighborhood kids in the car and my dad would always have country music on in the car,” Rich told NJ.com.
The country music they’d listen to ignited a passion that moved him from singing to songwriting as well.
“One thing I can do and have always been good at is writing in general. I wrote a lot of poetry as a kid. Somehow I started writing lyrics back in 2001,” he said.
Though he played a few instruments for a while, his writing and singing are what sets him apart from others. Having a mother with a keen eye doesn’t hurt either. It was his mother who spotted a recording studio not far from his apartment in which he met owner Tom Ackley, who began collaborating with Rich on songwriting and recording.
“It all started by me singing. That’s how I write the lyrics. I’d get in front of my computer and write it down.”
With three albums now completed, Rich has proven he belongs in the music industry.
On The Go
Staying busy doesn’t seem to be a problem for this man — Rich continues to make music when he’s not giving motivational speeches, which he’s been doing for over 13 years. Speaking, he says, is “a teaching tool for disability awareness.” He’s put out a CD of some of his motivational lectures.
As if that wasn’t enough, he is also a personal trainer for both the able-bodied and those with disabilities, including cardio, conditioning and weight training.
Matt Rich doesn’t quit. And he doesn’t sit still for very long either. As a personal trainer, musician, athlete and motivational speaker, he could be called a man on a mission. Except with Rich, one mission wouldn’t suffice.
We are very pleased to offer this month’s “I Define Me” award to someone who seems to redefine himself on a daily basis. The only thing that gets in the way of his own success in myriad areas of life is his desire to help others define and achieve their own success stories.
Please get in touch with us if you know someone who deserves recognition for the way they have redefined what it means to live with cerebral palsy.