Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Matt Gannon 1973-2011

Cynthia Yackenchick and Matt Gannon rolling by the river
in Turners Falls.
It is with much appreciation and sadness that I bear witness to the life and passing of Matt Gannon of Erving, Massachusetts. Matt was a participant in Universal Access Programs in recent years who especially enjoyed coming out in winter. Matt served in the US Marine Corps from March of 1993 to May of 1994, when he was honorably discharged after being hit by a car while off-duty and stationed in Japan. Matt suffered traumatic brain injury and was quadriplegic as a result of this accident. His indomitable spirit helped him tough it out in a body that he could not much use for the rest of his life. 

Maribeth Dawkins helps Matt get ready for his first
snowmobile ride in 2003.
I'll never forget a sunny, 40 degree day in March at Wendell State Forest when Matt and his family first came to a program. His father took a long ski on the forest roads. His nephew Tilyr sledded down the back hill. Matt and his father tried out a kicksled while his mother cheered them on. The highlight of Matt's day was the thrill of a snowmobile ride. It was the first time Matt and his family had returned to recreate at Wendell State Forest and since his accident. That day was the seed of many more adventures to come.

At Wendell State Forest, Matt met Cynthia Yackenchick, who works with people with disabilities as an independent service provider. Cynthia, a new volunteer with All Out Adventures, connected easily with Matt, even before they were technically introduced. Eventually Cynthia became Matt's getaway pal, showing up at the door and taking him in his van on various outings, allowing him to enjoy part of his life out in the world separate from his family. Together they took a wide variety of excursions, from motorcycle swap meets to hiking in the Quabbin, many of which have been well documented on facebook.

This is the kind of buddy system I wish so many more people with severe disabilities had in their lives!!! I hope that sharing it here will help inspire others to seek such connections.

I sometimes wonder for every person who makes it out to an adaptive recreation program, how many others are still stuck indoors.  Even with exceptionally caring families like the Gannons, the logistics of managing the life and needs of a family member with a severe disability can overwhelm the possibility of recreation. Transportation is a well known barrier to much needed outings. If only there were more adequate funding available, as well as a real system, to help more people access the outdoors!

Rest in peace Matt! We miss you! And thanks Cynthia for all you've done for Matt, as well as the photo of you two! You are both an inspiration of what true friendship can be!


Phil Dzialo said...

A really wonderful tribute to a life well lived despite many obstacles. I am sure that outdoor programs provided through Universal Access have been a very high point in Matt's life. Thanks, Marcy.

Emily P said...

I love this, it is really inspirational!