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WHITTLE: Two youths overcome childhood illnesses

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Over-paid professional alleged sports heroes, move over, up and out!!

As Americans, we’re tired of your incessant “whining,” plus tasteless braggart look-at-me wiggling, even vulgar gyrations in the end zone, like you’ve never been there before.

Make room in your hearts for two true-to-life heroes.

More specifically, they’re youthful heroes who have already courageously kicked butt above and beyond what most mortals have to deal with.

Meet Matthew “Mat Man” Conn, age 16, and a sophomore at Smyrna High School.

Smyrna resident Matthew, at age 9 weeks, started having “ear problems.”

What kind of ear problems…cancerous critically-severe ear problems?!

“After multiple treatments, tube inserts, and much pain later, Matthew was diagnosed (age 1) at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital with a form of childhood cancer that destroys an infants’ mastoid bone,” Matt’s mom Mollie Slaybaugh confirmed. “In 1995, the surgeon was called off the basketball court to do surgery at Baptist Hospital. That’s when we learned for certain Matthew had cancer.”

After apparent successful surgery, caregivers prescribed added insurance for Matt with extended chemo treatments.

“At age 5, following chemo and millions of prayers on and off throughout 1995 and 1996, they finally were able to diagnose Matthew with being ‘cancer free.’”

“He’s a miracle,” Mother Mollie mentioned as his stepfather Michael Slaybaugh nodded in agreement.

Making the family situation more critical, during the major illness and treatment era, Michael’s birth father abandoned the family.

I met “Mat Man” and his twin brother, Jackson, as dedicated young church-going boys at Smyrna Parkway Baptist Church. The two teenagers have blessed me by becoming two of my closest friends, whom I admire very much. I had the privilege of giving Matthew his “Mat Man” nickname in keeping with his record of wrestling wins for his high school team, plus, his determination to improve his grades.

A personal note, “Mat Man” is a whole two minutes younger than his twin.

Permit me to introduce some regional “royalty,” to wit, 22-year-old Justin Royal, a 2005 honor’s graduate of Riverdale High School.

But being a mere “honors student” doesn’t make one a hero, right?

You be the judge. I think it does considering that Justin, like “Mat Man,” has had to fight for survival since nearly day one of his life.

He’s had to fight for survival from a “major stroke” at 6-months-old.

“We’re very proud of Justin,” verified proud Grandfather Matthew Royal, retired chief of detectives at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department.

“He’s a very determined young man and a good citizen…” added Mike Royal, his uncle.

“Mother had a problem at my birth, since I was a big baby,” Justin traced back to his birth. “She was in labor more than 14 hours. Doctors believe some of the pushing and tugging on and around my head to get me delivered, may have contributed for the stroke six months later.”

Think about it? A stroke at age 6 months!!

But during his formative years and on up in high school years, Justin never let after-affects of that stroke hold him back.

“I was captain of the Riverdale High School Tennis Team,” accounted Justin, the son of Murfreesboro residents Barry and Sherry Beasley Royal.

In our interview, Justin had to be encouraged to talk about accomplishments and lingering physical affects dating back to the stroke as an infant.

“I’ve never had good dexterity with my left hand,” Justin shared. “No problem, I type with my right hand…”

And there’s his walking gait that’s not quite normal.

“I never considered the fact that I don’t walk normal. It never kept me from playing tennis good enough to lead my tennis team at Riverdale,” the young man added. “My stride is a little off…that’s all. It was hard at times, and concerned my parents at times, but I never let up in my goal to play high school tennis…serving right handed was no problem, but serving with my left was a bit of a challenge…”

“Sometimes, my coordination has been a challenge, but that’s part of the motivation to do well,” Justin added. “You don’t want people to feel sorry for you.”

Those are merely the physical challenges he’s met.

“My grade point average at Riverdale was 4.0,” Justin said modestly. “My guidance counselor, Mary Sevier, was one of my chief encouragers at school, who helped guide me into the curriculum for gifted programs and studies.”

That’s perfecto over a four-year period. But, there’s more.

Justin has already achieved a degree in under-graduate college psychology.

“I achieved that at Pomona College, a liberal arts school in California,” Justin added.

Justin’s now in Boston in pursuit of his masters to follow his dream toward a counseling career to help others.

“I just want to help others,” Justin concluded. “Help them understand how to deal with adversity…”

In achieving their goals in life, I’d not bet against either “Mat Man” Conn or Justin Royal, two heroic youthful winners over adversity.


Tagged under  Dan Whittle, Matthew Royal, Voices

Members Opinions:
May 29, 2011 at 4:20pm
Sadly, my friend Matthew Royal mentioned in the above column by Whittle passed way this week..condolences and prayers to his family...

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