It all happened in a flash. An elite athlete, 9/11 survivor and New York City fireman, Matt Long’s life changed forever on Dec. 22, 2005, when, cycling to work, he was struck by a NYC bus. Doctors doubted he would live, let alone ever walk again.
They didn’t know Matt Long.
His story, chronicled in detail in his new book The Long Run (Rodale, 256 p.), is one of hope, inspiration, and determination – not just to survive, but to thrive. For Long, who had played basketball at Division I Iona and who had recently achieved personal bests in triathlon and marathon competitions before his accident, dealing with some new limitations was an additional challenge.
“As an athlete my biggest adjustment was accepting the fact that I wouldn’t be as good or as fast as I was before the accident,” said Long. “I compete without being competitive but just the involvement in sports keeps my satisfied and that keeps me moving.”
The accident left Long with multiple fractures, nerve damage, and his right leg one inch shorter than the left. A metal detector would flash like a siren with all the pieces holding him together inside. But Long is making the most of what his body has to give.
“Overcoming these obstacles is not the plan – it’s learning to live with them and, in doing so, giving hope to runners and triathletes of all levels that face adversity,” said Long, whose training regimen includes time in the gym three days a week and in the pool four days a week with some cycling mixed in. “I have had great success in both Triathlon and distance running. I know that there is a way for me to continue.”
And not just for himself. Long not only returned to complete both the Ironman Triathlon and NYC Marathon, but is also using the experience to help others through the recently-launched “I Will Foundation (www.iwillfoundation.com). The mission is to spread his inspiring story and to help people overcome adversity and challenged caused by illness and traumatic injury.
“My ordeal really taught me that we have to take every day and find ways to help those around us, no matter how tough that may be,” he said. “Our Foundation has set out to do just that – assist those who have been injured or had some catastrophic event occur in their lives. They are down but they are in no way out, and we all must work to find ways to get them up and leading healthy and productive lives as best they can.”
And while there were few athletic barriers that Long saw as off limits before December 2005, one thing that the accident couldn’t take away was the competitive drive in all aspects of his life. Long’s entrepreneurial spirit has come through on the business side, working with his brother and some other close friends to manage and build out one of the most popular and successful series of establishments on new York’s ultra competitive East Side.
Long’s ultimate goal is to keep on inspiring. The Long Run is an important vehicle to spread the word.
“I think my story can help those with struggles realize that with a positive attitude anything is possible,” said Long. “Through my own struggles I prove that the human spirit is incredibly powerful.”