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Posted: Monday, October 1, 2007 -- Morgantown, WV
Exceptional Athlete: Matt Novacich

Matt Novacich
Matt Novacich poses for the camera
Photo by Julie Black
Story by and photos by Julie Black

Pick up any sports magazine or newspaper and you'll read about exceptional athletes. The headlines are bolded in black with large photos on the front page containing captions that highlight a recent win or an act of physical greatness.

This story isn't so different. It's certainly about an exceptional athlete, but he's not famous. He's not sponsored. His name has never been featured in bold type, but that doesn't matter to him. To a few Morgantown Area Grand Prix (MAGP) runners who've recently met him, he is their hero.

His name is Matt Novacich. He runs almost every day, benches 275, leg-presses 480, and curls 113 pounds. That is great, but is it exceptional? It is when you meet Matt.

Matt Novacich and Larry Taylor
Matt Novacich and Larry Taylor
Photo by Julie Black
To look at him he seems like an average, local guy. A big sports fan, he wears West Virginia University hats and Pittsburgh Steelers shirts most everywhere he goes. But as soon as Matt walks or talks people look at him a little differently. Matt does all of these things, including running in 5K races, despite the fact that he was born with cerebral palsy (CP).

CP makes it difficult for Matt to speak, affecting his motor skills, and limiting his movement. The life-long condition has not affected his courage and drive to improve his abilities as an athlete.

"He is an inspiration to me." said MAGP's present series points leader, Larry Taylor.

"I've seen him at quite a few MAGP races. Every runner has a story, and I wanted to know his." Larry decided to 'run-in' with Matt at the Run with the Law 5K at Camp Dawson in August and the two have been fast friends ever since.

Larry Taylor and Matt Novacich
Matt Novacich receives his award
Photo by Julie Black
Matt began running at the 1985 Special Olympics and has never looked back. Now at age 31, he tries to run in as many MAGP races as he can.

"I told him that he can do anything that he wants to do, but sometimes he has to find a different way to do it." said Maggie, Matt's mother.

"This was the first time that I've run this FBI race." Matt explained. "This is also the first year I ran in the Beth Bonner Memorial 5K too."

In 2007, he has gained more running partners as well. Cathy Hill noticed Matt at other area races and found him to be, "Remarkable." Cathy explained, "Even more remarkable is the fact that he is presently placed 46 in the MAGP Sprint Series and he finishes the races he participates in with very good times."

As Matt's mother, Maggie, and his father, John, stood proud as Matt graciously accepted a special award presented to him at the FBIRA Jerry Dove Memorial 5K on Saturday, September 29. Recognized for his outstanding spirit and inspiring story Matt had this to say, "Running has helped my confidence and Larry is like family to me."

"All runners are family around here." said Larry with a smile. "He's the reason that I'm out here."

Alt Tag
New friends Larry Taylor, Matt Novacich, Cathy Hill
About cerebral palsy:

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the term cerebral palsy (CP) refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don't worsen over time.

The non-contagious condition is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements. Although treatments can improve the abilities of someone who has CP, it cannot be cured and the effects are life-long.