Google the name “Matthew Rich” and you may find yourself confused. Whether you’re looking for the country singer/songwriter, the personal trainer, the motivational speaker or the guy campaigning for a spot on the “Ellen” show, it will undoubtedly surprise you to learn that they are all the same person.
For someone with such a strong online presence, Matt will further surprise you with his humility and sincerity. What isn’t surprising is that, as the recipient of our “I Define Me” award, Matt redefines what it means to live with cerebral palsy. This talented, multi-talented performer of feats physical, mental and artistic views cerebral palsy not as a hindrance, but as a gift.
Oshman & Mirisola recently had the opportunity to speak with Matt.
Q: Did you treat middle school choir as a way to learn more about the craft of singing, or were you more like a typical middle schooler who was just taking a class?
To be honest, it was more a middle school choir to take the class. It was probably more of a school requirement. I’ll be honest about my songwriting skills — I can’t read music notes to save my life, but I know how to put words together in poetry form to make a song out of it. I did write a lot of poems as a kid that I got to share with family.
Q: At what point in your life did singing become more than just choir class?
A: It was much, much later. It was about 2005 when I graduated from college and I just wanted to try something different. At that time I’d been songwriting for about four years. I would get lyrics in my head and write them down, and I felt God was trying to tell me something — I might as well find somewhere that I can go record my songs. That’s when I started taking it more seriously.
Q: Is there anything you do/watch/read for the sole purpose of getting inspired to write songs?
A: I mostly look to country music, specific artists I listen to. George Jones, Randy Travis, Hank Williams Sr. and Jr. — a lot of traditional artists. I have written over 150 songs; most of them have never ever been recorded. I’ve only recorded about 25.
Honestly, my first musical goal would be to use it as a platform to tell more of my story, to give people more insight into who I was and what cerebral palsy means.
When that didn’t happen, and hasn’t happened, music is more of a hobby than a career choice. It’s something that’s kind of on the back burner. I now focus more on training and motivational speaking. I honestly believe that personal training and motivational speaking are supposed to be that platform. When I get up, I talk about my story and what I’ve overcome.
Q: If you could have a beer with any of the country singers you used to listen to as a kid, who would it be? Also, if you could ask that person one question about the music industry or recording process, what would it be?
A: It would be either Alan Jackson or George Jones. Alan Jackson has written the majority of his own country music songs. I think a lot about what drives me and motivates him to write songs — I would ask him the same question. George Jones, I’d want to shake his hand and tell him how much of a role he’s played in my life. I grew up on his music — my dad listened to it.
Q: What would you tell a kid who says he’s frustrated because he wants to learn guitar but a physical disability makes it difficult?
A: I would say don’t give up on it. If it’s something they can focus on that they enjoy, go get it! It just takes time. Like anything in life, all good things take time. I know it’s hard, I know it’s difficult; I don’t play guitar anymore because I wasn’t doing it enough. If I’m not putting enough time in, what’s the point of going to a teacher if I’m not going to sit at home and practice it? My advice would definitely be to stick with it and make it an instrument they enjoy.
Q: At what age did you get into weightlifting?
A: I started at 15 years old. For the last five years I’ve been doing pushups, sit-ups, squats, running or walking on a treadmill daily…that’s my routine now. But when I started at 15, my routine was to lift every other day, and now I work out five days a week.
Q: What did you like about it?
A: I used a dumbbell. Instead of going out and using machines, the dumbbells kind of forced you to control things more on your own, and that’s what I really liked about it. After a couple weeks, I gained strength and could see a small difference in my appearance. The number one thing was the ability of gaining control.
Q: How do you push yourself to train for races? What is the goal?
A: When I pick a date and I’m signed up for the race, that’s how I stay focused. I have this date, I put it on my Facebook, text people “this is the day that I’m running.” So if I don’t do it — excuse my French — it makes me look like a jackass. By putting it on the Internet, it gives me a sense of accountability.
To intensify training at that point, I continue to do my pushups, sit-ups, squats, but I add bench-pressing with a 60-pound weighted bag, and walk around with that bag on my back to emulate what I’d be doing in a race.
I’m not really worried about the time. I’m going to be walking for a good cause. Obviously, I’m going to have a stopwatch — I carry one with me in every race. The time does matter, but that’s part of the goal too. I try to improve my time every time.
Even if it doesn’t improve — and I do get upset, don’t get me wrong — I try to go out on the next race and do better, focus more on certain things I need in training to better my time, next time.
I’ve been calculating everything. At the end of the month, and at the end of the year too, I add them up. Last year, I did 115,244 pushups over a year. 71,000 sit-ups and 32,000 squats. And that goal’s already set for the year. I’d like to do 150,000 pushups…way more. I’d like to do at least 85,000 sit-ups and at least 40,000 squats for the year.
I’ve been keeping track of this since 2011. I pick out the number I want to do for the year, before the year starts. Last year, my goal was actually 100,000 pushups for the year. And I did 15,000 more. I make a plan and I bust through it.
This year I have eight races scheduled, but I’m only going to make seven. Three times a year, I have a phase of fatigue where my body goes into complete rest mode and I don’t do anything.
Q: What would you say to someone with cerebral palsy who doesn’t know if it’s worth it to push him/herself physically?
A: What I would say is that we’re trying to do what able-bodied people can do everyday. They can get up, walk on the floor, do sit-ups…they just don’t realize it. They choose not to do it. So what we’re trying to do in the small steps we take, we’re just trying to get to where they are. That’s my opinion. So stay focused on those little goals. If it’s tying your shoes, then you have to focus on that every day. Give yourself five minutes every day, and if you feel you can go on past five minutes, try for ten. Try for 20. Try for 30. Try for an hour. Give yourself a little bit of time, in whatever it is you want to focus on. I’d say that for guitar. Set your timer, give yourself some time. Give yourself time to do what it is that you want to do. People don’t realize that—you set a timer when you’re baking something, you know it has to be out of the oven in 15 minutes. So you set the timer and boom, 15 minutes is up!
One thing that I learned as a personal trainer…it wasn’t anything it was taught to me, except maybe by watching other people train…a lot of these guys are using timer methods. They set timers for 3-minute rounds. Boxers have a 3-minute clock in their head that tells them “I have 3 minutes to pound the crap out of this guy, and once the bell rings, I go sit down and catch my breath.” Use a clock—you’ll give yourself 5 minutes and before you know it you’re giving yourself 10 minutes because before you know it, the time is up.
Every day, I thank God for letting me open my eyes, giving me breath and letting me live another day. Then I jump out of bed and do 20 pushups. That wakes me up, gets me going before I even walk across the floor. And boom you’re out the door, more awake and alert than you thought.
Q: Have you noticed a link between getting stronger physically and getting stronger mentally?
A: Yes — I love that question. I’ve been saying for a long time that I honestly believe that fitness is 90% mental and 10% physical. If you get physically stronger, you get mentally stronger too, because you start to believe in yourself more. You gain a mental edge that you didn’t have before. But on the other side of that, it’s more mental than physical, because you have to have this outlook that you are going to get up every day and try to run through that wall that’s in front of me. If you tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day, you’re going to have a bad day. It literally starts with you looking yourself in mirror and telling yourself that it’s going to be all right. They go hand in hand, if you do it right.
Q: What is the most important message you’d like people to take away with them after hearing you speak?
A: Pretty much anything is possible. I want people to know that if you take your limitations and turn them into strength, and use the best of your ability to do what it is you have to do every day.
Cerebral palsy is a gift. And because of that gift that was given to me, I’m able to share the gift of motivation with hundreds of thousands of people in a year…I can post a video on YouTube or go out and speak somewhere…and I can give people a sense of hope that they can go after their dreams. Their dreams may change, and that’s okay. But work hard on what it is you want to do, and keep moving. Stay active. Do a little something every day to make yourself better.
You might hang up the phone with me and decide, because you’re so motivated, “I want to go out and kick some ass! I want to go run through a wall.” Whatever goal it is that you have, you don’t have to be sick to get better. That’s what motivation is really about.