Matt Courson has always been an athlete, but after an ATV accident in 2006, followed by an eight-hour spinal surgery, he learned that he would not be walking out of the hospital and back onto the baseball diamond: he was paralyzed from the waist down, with a one percent chance of walking again. He soon began aggressive physical therapy at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury. “The therapists and patients there are the best athletes I’ve ever known,” he said, and in time he learned to stand, bear his own weight and walk again with assistance. Inspired by Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, the first quadriplegic to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, Courson chose to study political science at UMBC.
On Monday, May 23, Courson astounded his parents and thousands of commencement attendees by walking across the stage, a moment captured by the Baltimore Sun and Catonsville Patch (video, recap). Matt’s hometown paper, the McGehee Times, quoted President Freeman Hrabowski on watching Matt’s graduation walk. “It took all my energy not to break down… Seeing it and looking into his eyes, the emotion, it was so inspiring. The entire place was mesmerized, thousands of people. We experienced a miracle, it was that powerful,” he said. Matt’s story and his graduation walk were also featured on CNN’s “Human Factor.” “My goal now is to help others,” he said. “My injury just happens to be a spinal cord injury, but everyone goes through something like this in life.”