Rowing coach Liz Chisholm helped Matt focus his energy and pursue athletic excellence. And Adrienne Chan, a professor of social work and human services, introduced him to university-level research opportunities.
“Two people were key to my academic and personal success: Liz Chisholm and Adrienne Chan,” Matt asserts. “They bolstered my wellness and helped me transition from a rebellious youth to a disciplined young adult. Adrienne was the first person to make me feel smart. She taught me that if I put in the time and effort into a project, I could be successful. Thanks to her, I am as much a research scientist as I am a Registered Nurse now.”
Matt’s current career has three streams to it: He provides clinical nursing education to students three times per week, he spends two or three days a week in his own academic pursuits, and he trains nurses and other health-care professionals in emergency life-saving skills, including those relevant to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Based in Edmonton at Royal Alexandria Hospital, he also teaches at the University of Alberta, and is involved in research on critical health care skills with collaborators from across the world.
His success was not a given.
As a young man Matt had energy to burn… and he had to find a conduit for it so he could still his mind and body and focus on his studies.
For Matt, that conduit was rowing. He was introduced to the sport after his parents enrolled him at Brentwood College school on Vancouver Island. He had been expelled from school in his hometown of 108 Mile House, and this was a last-ditch effort to correct his course.
“I really got turned around there. I learned how to study with the help of mandatory study hall sessions, and also got into rowing.”
A few years of working on the periphery of the health care field followed. He was involved in ski patrol, search and rescue, and occupational health and safety.
“I wanted to get into health care, but knew my grades weren’t good enough to put me on the med school track, and I’d seen too many paramedics stuck waiting in hospital hallways for their patient to be admitted. I needed more action than that. So I decided to pursue a career in emergency nursing.”
Once he was admitted to UFV’s nursing program he joined the UFV rowing team and was out on the water at Fort Langley most mornings, rowing with his partner under the guidance of Coach Chisholm.
“Rowing was a way to tire me out enough so that I could focus on my studies,” Matt says. “It was also essential for my mental health. I needed that outlet.”
And when Liz and her husband Tom discovered that Matt was sleeping in his 1987 Honda Civic hatchback in parking lots, they took the unusual step of inviting him to live in their family home for his last semester.
“As a coach, one is very mindful of helping people grow and develop as a whole person,” Liz notes. “Matt was going through a very stressful time, rowing at the university level, taking a very demanding and all-encompassing program, and being very involved in a major research project. After I arrived at the boathouse before dawn one morning and found Matt sleeping in his car, I talked it over with my husband and we decided to offer him one of our spare bedrooms for the winter months.”
As Liz was Matt’s coach, she was careful to keep a professional distance, and the offer to stay came from her husband Tom. They didn’t see much of Matt as he was busy on all fronts and out much of the day and night, but the security of having somewhere to sleep and look after his basic needs supported his success.
“Yeah, it was tough being a student athlete,” Matt recalls. “It was difficult balancing training in Abbotsford/Chilliwack, having clinical rotations all over the Fraser Valley and living where I had been in Langley. I was running out of money and I needed to keep rowing in order to maintain my mental health.
I was sleeping at the boathouse parking lot in my Honda Civic. Liz and Tom made it possible for me to continue to be well, pay tuition, work in Abbotsford, and do clinical rotations.”
Matt was the UFV Cascades’ top male rower from 2004 to 2006, achieving unprecedented results for the team.
He and teammate Gareth Newcombe (BKin ’06) became the first Cascades rowers to earn selection to the prestigious Head of the Charles regatta in Boston in 2005, where they finished second to Harvard University in the men’s double. Matt and Gareth also turned in outstanding performances at the Canadian University Rowing Championships, winning the B final in 2004, and qualifying for the A final in 2005.
But Matt was more than an athlete.
He also had a burning curiosity about the world around him, a strong volunteer ethic and sense of social justice, and interest in social issues that took him beyond the nursing curriculum. So he enrolled in Adrienne Chan’s social work course as an elective outside of his nursing studies.
Adrienne supervised Matt in a project examining homelessness in Abbotsford from a health-care perspective. In his research study, Matt detailed the experiences of individuals through 12 in-depth participant interviews and 50 questionnaires with people who shared their challenges and victories with disease, substance misuse, and holistic health within the context of physiological illness and service delivery.
“Matt was a very dedicated student in my class,” Adrienne recalls. “He was an outstanding researcher with an inquiring mind. He took his studies seriously.