Heidi Zemach for Seward City News -
Matt Kenney was of the elite Mount Marathon racers in 2012 when he fell 30 feet from the slippery cliffs at the base of Mount Marathon, suffering a severe traumatic brain injury and a fractured calf. He’d been running his seventh race, and had completed some of the races before in under an hour.
It was the same race in which a National Guard pilot also fell from the cliffs during the women’s race, broke her ribs, and lacerated her liver, and that Michael LeMaitre, 66, a rookie, disappeared on the trail and was never found.
Kenney wasn’t expected to live after the accident, and he spent the first week in an induced coma, the doctors fearing infection from all the dirt in his wounds. His injury was on the left side of his brain, the side that affects speech, cognitive and short-term memory, and some doubted that he’d ever walk or talk again.
But with a good deal of therapy at a brain and spinal injury rehabilitation center in Omaha, Nebraska, Kenney defied expectations, and was eventually able to return to Alaska to hike and run mountainous trails again.
This Friday, Independence Day 2014, he returned to the Mount Marathon Race, wearing a helmet this time, a rod in his calf, and accompanied by his friend Brad Precosky, a seven time race champion. Kenney was ebullient at the starting line.
“It feels good. It feels really good. For me and Brad, if we get through the rock and get to the finish, unscathed, in a fair amount of time, the time will take care of itself, it really will. I’ve got my wife here, my friends, just the support that I’ve had for everything, everything that we’ve all been through. This is why I’m here,” Kenney said.
His return to the race was not meant to prove either to himself, or anyone else that he could still do it, he added. “It’s something that’s in your blood. When you’ve done it as long as I have, it becomes a part of you, and there’s no backing down.”
His wife Gretchen, and their children Justin and Savannah seemed as cheerful and hopeful as Matt before the start. “Well, it’s a monumental moment for us that he was able to come back and live his life, but live his life doing what he loves to do,” she said. “This is his form of art, and the mountain is his canvass. He’s worked really hard, and put in a lot of time and effort and we’re just really, really proud of him. We love him with all our hearts.”
When Kenney and Precosky emerged from the trees near the base of the mountain more than two hours later, carefully negotiating the rocks, an immense, rock-star roar rang out from the crowds below, and followed him as he proceeded down Jefferson, then turned onto Third Avenue toward the finish line. Kenney was joined by a large entourage of friends, family and fellow racers, who ran alongside and behind him. He made it to the finish minutes before the two-and-a-half hour cutoff time. It was an emotional and uplifting moment for all who knew his story.