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Athlete Matt Tollenear This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     When it comes to heroes you often think of some fictional character who runs around in tights or someone in the military. While they are heroes, the person I see as my hero is a friend who graduated two years ago. His name is Matt and he showed me what true strength is and how to be a good athlete.

As a boy, Matt was active and healthy ... well, active at least. Matt was born with a heart defect that could eventually be fatal. While he became easily winded and could not participate in most sports, Matt still found ways to stay in shape, including karate. Matt would always attend sporting events and hoped one day to be on the field playing as the star.

Freshman and sophomore year of high school, Matt joined the cross-country team but was unable to participate because of his heart. That was the final straw: seeing his friends run but not being able to himself really angered Matt. He decided to have surgery to try to fix the problem. After the surgery Matt was weak, but he felt renewed because he knew that once he healed, he could finally compete.

Success came to Matt after that. Junior year he quickly rose in the team's rank and was eventually running varsity, competing in big meets. His ability in cross country, though, paled in comparison to his success in track and field. In just one season Matt became our school's number-one triple jumper. With a huge personal record at the sectional meet, Matt did what everyone strives for: he made States. Although he did not do as well as he wanted, he was satisfied just being there.

My freshman year, Matt was a senior, and I still remember clearly the first time we met. We were at a cross-country camp and before we got ready to run, he took off his shirt. I noticed a large scar running the length of his chest and when I asked about it, he told me he had been stabbed in a fight. Idiot that I was, I believed him. When he saw the look on my face, he laughed and told me what really happened. When I saw him run, I was amazed how good he was since he'd only been running for a year.

Throughout the season Matt and I were good friends, with him helping me whenever I had a problem. It wasn't until track season rolled around that Matt really changed my sporting career. At the first meet I watched him in the triple jump and was amazed. Later that season he encouraged me to become a triple jumper since I had long legs. Then he taught me how to jump and showed me how he worked out.

I didn't triple jump freshman year because my coach was worried I would hurt myself, but I did sophomore year. I was really nervous and afraid I wouldn't make it to the sand pit. Right before I jumped, Matt told me to relax and remember what he had taught me. I felt better with him there.

After I jumped Matt told me I had done really well for my first time and that I would probably be better than him by the end of the season. That really boosted my confidence and made me work hard for the rest of the season.

If it weren't for Matt I would probably have quit track, but because of his guidance and support, I am now ranked second in our sectionals for triple jump. Matt's determination and strength to succeed really drove me to be my best. Matt may not be a superhero or save lives like some heroes, but he inspires people to be better.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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