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The Trailblazer

Matt Maher speaks to students

By: Hanna Kimball

Photo by: http://www.themattmaherstory.com/my-story/

Photo by: http://www.themattmaherstory.com/my-story/

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He was “that guy;” nineteen years of soccer training, 16 years of education, and a lifetime of popularity and fame that all ended in a second on March 7, 2009.

Matt Maher was a 25-year-old professional soccer player when he drove under the influence, crashed, and killed 55-year-old Hort Kap. Since his release from five and a half years in prison in 2014, he has presented his story to over 7,000 students in New Jersey, and continues to present today. Matt presented to the Pascack Hills freshman and sophomore classes.

“If you can just open up your perspective a little bit and realize man, how fragile life is, number one, and how much more should I guard the decisions I make, number two, but not just my decisions,” says Maher. “If I can have a role in helping him make the right decision, then I’m just as responsible.”

Pascack Hills senior, Jack Rossig, commended Matt by saying, “It’s really motivating and awesome to see go from something that negative and turn it into something positive.”

In response, Matt said, “There was always an option to go the other [negative] way…and as early as it happened I remember having a decision to make even in that moment. You know, what do you do if everything you thought was right is now flipped upside down, the way you were living. But you don’t just leave it at that, you have to respond to it.”

Matt credits integrity, accountability and faith for allowing him to move forward in life. He accepts the fact that he did make a mistake and he says he has no excuses for what has been done. Matt has been through many other difficult things in his life such as the death of his brother in 2005. He believes that difficult situations like this build a person’s character.

He says, “Usually it takes troubles or trials to shape your character, it’s really how character is built, when you go through stuff.” He continued by encouraging students “to keep enduring, to keep pushing things out, because eventually you will be standing on solid ground and you can look back and think man I can’t believe where I was, but thank God I am where I am.”

Matt’s court story became a story of forgiveness when a photo of him and his victim’s son hugging became the cover picture for many news articles. During the presentation Matt played videos from his court appearance. However, he said the only video he actually watches during the presentation is the one where he is hugging his victim’s son because he wants to see this scene of forgiveness. This focus on forgiveness really inspired Matt.

“It’s still emotional for me, but it’s not like…’have sympathy for me’ it’s more like, ‘man, I don’t deserve to be here sharing, but I am.’ My challenge and my goal is to help somebody else out that may be making the same decisions that they are not seeing clearly.”

Gale Mangold, Pascack Hills Student Assistance Counselor, said, “Matt’s presentation was well received by the student body, and his journey was particularly powerful because individuals in our own community have had tragic circumstances surrounding this issue of driving while intoxicated. Matt spoke at both PHHS and PVHS to raise student awareness. A series of Red Ribbon Week prevention programs like this one were implemented throughout the district, to spare even one student from dealing with the heart ache a DUI tragedy causes.”

Throughout the presentation Matt tried to connect to and reach the students. One of the impactful question Matt left with the students was, “So, something will happen in life, young, old, and you are going to have a decision to respond to it. Do you let it define you? Or, do you let it refine you, do you let it mold you?”

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