By Denise Zolla Pizzo
24 Aug

Steady As He Goes

Friday, August 24, 2012

One foot in front of the other, and then constant movement in a forward direction is the parallel mission of Nels Matson’s body and mind, as he continues to use ultra endurance athletics to advocate for CHD. You may have read a mention of Nels’ recent event in the July ACHA e-newsletter. On July 14-15 he participated in the Back on My Feet 24-hour ultra run in Philadelphia, PA. As Nels long-term girlfriend and skilled massage therapist, I fulfilled the crew support role for him on this inspiring endeavor. I hope to share the insider perspective of life with an ACHDer who lives with purpose.

Despite being an accomplished endurance athlete with two 100-mile-per-day bike across America fundraising/advocacy events (2010 and 2011) and completion of his first Ironman only five weeks after the 2011 tour, this ultra run was a new challenge for Nels. It required extensive training and learning even more about his own mind and body boundaries. In the months prior to the event I said good-bye to him several days while he set off on his 30-mile training runs. These were followed up by a mild 20-miler the very next day! One of the greatest challenges was figuring out what food his body could tolerate in the extreme humid heat of his hometown in Florida. Something as simple as eating was a science project for a period of time.

After each long run, he spent several minutes submerged in a full body tub of ice! It was slightly more agonizing than the running itself, but was a proven method for rapid recovery. This was also a great opportunity for entertainment, as the amateur film director in me captured photos and film of the entry into the ice bath.

The training was done, the day was here, it was 10 a.m., and gumption took him into the top 28% of finishers with 76.10 miles in 20 hours, 36 minutes. How does someone keep moving for this long, without sleep, eating and drinking on the move, and in excruciating pain? The answer was simple for Nels Matson—four letters, T-E-A-M.

A team of supporters near and far was formed! The merging of former college wrestler buddies, family and friends, co-workers, virtual friendships via social networks, CHD advocates met at Lobby Day, and surprise visits from CHD children and families known from past events—these all fueled Nels throughout the grueling hours of this event. It was most rewarding to feel the purpose of his event was accomplished by not only exceeding a fundraising goal, but advocating the awareness of CHD throughout the diversity of his relationships. The grand finale for us was being hosted for a celebration lunch with the hard-working team at the ACHA home office in Philadelphia!

Nels is humble in nature and won’t like my proud statements. But what I know about him in private is true. He is selfless when working for his cause. He is passionate about inspiring action in others. He desires CHD to be household knowledge. He has been referred to as a “hero” and it makes him cringe, solely because he feels his personal CHD struggle was minimal in comparison to many others he knows. Born in October 1982, his CHD was undetected until he was 2 years old. In the summer of 1985 he had open heart surgery to correct his partial anomalous pulmonary venous return—three of four pulmonary veins going into his heart the wrong way—as well as an atrial septal defect. At 5 years of age he was released for all activity and his parents introduced him to the world of wrestling. He credits this sport for where he got his grit and toughness to compete.

He loves people and their stories so please feel free to contact him through his website. Tell us what endurance event you want to see him complete next!

I’ll leave you with Nels’ words of inspiration: “You never know what you can fully accomplish until you start focusing on how your accomplishments can help others.”


Add yours below.


The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.