Matt Hood, Class of 1997
Kewpie of the Month January 2002
BEARERS OF LIGHT
14 Columbians and 21 people from eastern Missouri will carry the Olympic Torch through the city on Wednesday to a lunchtime stop at the Hearnes Center.
When Matt Hood was born, some experts told his parents he might have a difficult time just sitting. Wednesday, he'll run through the streets of Columbia with the Olympic flame. Hood is one of 14 Columbians selected as torchbearers in the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Torch Relay that comes to town Wednesday. The flame will be carried through Columbia on its way to a lunchtime stop at the Hearnes Center. In addition to local torchbearers, another 21 people from eastern Missouri are expected to participate in the Columbia leg of the relay. "It's a very diverse group of people," said Jody Russell of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They all have their stories to tell."
An estimated 11,500 people will be torchbearers during the relay's 13,500-mile trek to the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Some spots are set aside for corporate sponsors. The rest were chosen because of the inspiration they provide, adversity they've overcome or exemplary community service they demonstrate. Few fit the bill better than Matt Hood.
Hood, 23, was born with Down Syndrome and has undergone multiple surgeries, some of which were life threatening. Despite the challenges, he remains good-natured and determined to succeed at everything he does. "Dreams come true if you want them really bad," Hood said. Attaining his dreams has been difficult for Hood, who has battled naysayers throughout his life. At an early age, some experts doubted that he would be able to walk and talk. Today, he is an accomplished Special Olympian who serves as a global messenger speaking to groups on behalf of the program. "Given the opportunity, he's always achieved much more than anyone said was possible," said Glenda Hood, Matt's mother.
Matt Hood has undergone more operations than his mother can remember. He and his family have traveled as far away as California for treatment of the condition that causes Matt's neck to be unstable. Despite the physical challenges, Hood has compiled an impressive record of achievement. He was running by the time he was 15 months old and reading in kindergarten. He participated in regular physical education classes at Hickman High School, where he graduated in 1997. For the past three years, he has worked at Fazoli's Italian Restaurant bussing tables and assisting with food preparation. "He has to work a lot harder than everybody else in everything he does," Glenda Hood said.
Matt would like to begin studying business management in college. With help from his parents, he takes the lead in gathering information about different schools and contacting the appropriate staff. Though he has yet to find a program that meets his needs, Hood remains undeterred. "If he decides he's going to do it, it's just going to happen," Glenda Hood said. Matt Hood said he would someday like to manage a business of his own and employ some of his friends. He immediately thought of those friends when he found out he had been selected for the torch relay. "My first reaction was I would do the best I could for my friends," Hood said.
Though he has carried the torch for the Special Olympics, Hood said he still has some jitters before Wednesday's two-tenths of a mile run. "I'm kind of nervous, but I'm ready for it," he said. Hood believes some people will view him as an Olympic hero, and, like those who have been immortalized in history, he plans on pushing himself to the limit. "I'm gonna give it everything I've got," he said.
ELIZABETH ORTEGA / Missourian - from the Digital Missourian
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