This Man's Special Olympics Journey is Worth Your Attention

July 28th 2015

Laura Donovan

Three months into his life, Matthew Hernandez was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. Doctors told his grandparents that he would die within a decade or so and never be able to eat, walk, or talk on his own, however, 21 years later, he plays nine sports, holds a steady job, has his own car, and will compete in kayaking at the Special Olympics World Games for the first time. He has been kayaking for five years and part of the Mesquite Special Olympics for nearly a decade.

Hernandez's grandparents are so proud to see him partake in the Los Angeles Special Olympics this week because they have watched him come such a long way since his diagnosis many years ago.

"Everybody told us there is nothing you can do," his grandpa Jack Green told TODAY. "My wife and I started feeding him like a puppy with an eye dropper and a little hose on it. Matthew wouldn't open his mouth. We would take that eye dropper and stick it down the side of his mouth and start feeding him."

Earlier this month, Green told CBS 11 News that his wife Kathy used to stay up past midnight trying to get Hernandez to swallow.

“His grandma would stay up, starting 12 o’clock at night and feed him with an eyedropper like a puppy, till he finally started swallowing,” Green said.

Kathy explained to The Special Olympics of Texas that she and her husband refused to give up on their grandson no matter what medical professionals said. He was going to live, and they were going to help him get better.

"We did not accept that prognosis and took it upon ourselves to try alternate feeding methods," Kathy said. "We fed him with an eye dropper, which took us hours to do, but eventually it paid off and he started eating on his own. The rest is history."

All the hours and love his grandparents put forth made a huge difference for Hernandez. Thanks to physical therapy and his grandparents' patience and encouragement, Hernandez developed some independence and became active in his community. He began playing school sports, volunteering, and participating in the ROTC program.

"They say I can do anything and just keep pushing," Hernandez told TODAY. "I am very excited [about the Special Olympics]. I am ready to go."

In 2010, he was asked to compete in the World Games in Greece, but he declined because his teammate was ineligible. Though this is his first World Games competition, he intends to take home the gold. To increase his chances of faring well, he's been training up to six days a week at White Rock Lake in northeast Dallas. He's one of 14 Texas athletes to make it to the World Games. A religious individual, he credits God for giving him the strength to make it this far.

"I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me,” he told CBS 11 News earlier this month. “I think of that verse every single time I’m out there, every time."

Over the weekend, first lady Michelle Obama spoke at the Special Olympics World Games opening ceremony in Los Angeles.

"Over the past few years, my husband and I have seen Americans unite in so many ways across the country," she said. "These games are a perfect reflection of that unity. They show us that we're all in this together – that we can lift up our friends and neighbors, and that we can bring out the best in each other to reach even higher heights."