A young hockey player named Matt Curran showed up at CM as a “longshot”, as part of the inaugural 8th Grade class at Donahue Hall in 1993. Arriving, he was struck by the talent and competition in the classroom as well as on the ice.
Crossing Baker Street from middle to high school to become part of the dynastic hockey program required and fostered an ability to fight every day to be his best as a student, goaltender and teammate. As part of the 1998, undefeated State and National Championship Hockey team, Curran learned lessons he’d call upon later in life.
In 2001, Curran was paralyzed after a 33-foot fall that occurred on a team trip as part of the Providence College hockey team. After a two-week coma, he awoke to learn he had broken 28 bones throughout his body along with several other injuries. Curran’s spine was damaged at multiple levels and he suffered the loss of mobility from his chest down.
While in Atlanta healing at the Shepherd Center, he understood the need to reframe his life that was now, as he puts it, “stuck in the mud.” How would a hard-wired athlete process this new predicament?
“As a competitor, I was too busy worrying about the people that were doing better than me. And once I turned my head to the people that were doing worse, I started to realize that maybe I should be rooting for those people and not just hoping for myself.” That manifest compassion, Curran explains, was instilled in him by his parents, his five years at CM, and his time at Providence College.
Thinking about the welfare of others, he’d come to find out, wasn’t so unique at all. “The first non-family members to visit me were four CM guys from the hockey team. Hadn’t seen them in three years. And here they were, in Atlanta, to support me. I’ll never forget how nervous I was for them to see me in a wheelchair and true to form they had me laughing within minutes.”
Curran was able to defy the odds and leave the Shepherd Center months later, on his feet. He attributes this miracle to family support, divine intervention and a ton of hard work.
It’s one thing to endure a traumatic experience. It’s another to use it to help others. That happened at a time when Curran’s rehabilitation had plateaued, and life was again stuck
in the “mud.”
“In 2010, I was sitting at work and struggling with the inability to do certain drills and it dawned on me that I was so far from where I’d started, that instead of being frustrated, I should be grateful. I felt I had to express my gratitude for what I had by giving someone else a chance.”
The key to Curran’s recovery was in part economic, as well as the emotional support from family and friends who were present. “So, I said, ‘there’s probably a kid in that same hospital tonight with no one from his family there, because they can’t afford it.’
From having “no idea how to start a non-profit” to getting traction for this cause happened when the model changed from raising scholarship funds to something tailored to the individual. “We have no aspiration to be the big foundation. My name isn’t even listed or on the foundation itself. What we do is literally act as a broker of hope for somebody with a very specific need.”
Take Dianne Vitkus, a lucky beneficiary of the 33 Foundation. “She was paralyzed a year ago,” says Curran. “She’s ready to be independent but can’t because she has no car. So, we raise money to get Dianne a modified vehicle with automated ramps and hand controls.” Now, Vitkus can now get around, attend more therapy, and meet more friends. In essence, a life-threatening fall may only last a few seconds, but to climb back from it takes time and is a mix of will, luck, faith and direct, specific help.
One metric that shows the success the 33 Foundation has had is how often Curran’s phone rings. “Between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving last year, I met eight new families that had just had a loved one paralyzed. The team at the foundation asks, ‘Hey, Matt, can you talk to this guy? Can you talk to this family? Call this kid. Call this girl?’ I take every call, obviously. But I think that’s a sign of the growing impact we’re making.” And why are these people so desperate to speak with him? As Curran puts it, “They call because they know I’ve been there and that we will do whatever we can to help.”
Today, Matt Curran serves on the CM Board of Directors bringing his vision and determination to partner with school leadership to foster experiences like the ones he had at his time on campus.