On May 9th, 1995, Kerri Matuszak gave birth to triplets at the North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York. Like all parents do, Kerri and her husband Ed Matuszak had always imagined the day of their children's birth to be a joyous occasion. However, May 9th, 1995 was not the joyous day that they had always hoped for. It was a day filled with chaos and confusion. Kerri Matuszak was rushed to the North Shore University Hospital because she required an emergency caesarean section. Due to birth complications, Kerri Matuszak’s triplets were born 15 weeks premature.
All three children weighed under 1 pound 15 oz’s each at birth. As is the case with many children that are born prematurely, the Matuszak triplets all had health complications. Sydney Matuszak, who is the only sister of the three, eventually required scoliosis surgery to repair the curvature of her spine, while Alec and Ian Matuszak were both diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and posture. Now at the age of 20, both Alec and Ian Matuszak require walkers to move around and wheel chairs for when they have to travel long distances. Both brothers also experience a difficult time with speaking.
In May of 2015, Ian Matuszak contacted us through Twitter. He told us about his incredible life story and asked us to share it with the world. Throughout his early teen years, Ian had battled depression. Depression is very common among teenagers that suffer from cerebral palsy. When Ian saw his friends, he became upset because he believed he could not live the life of a normal teenager. “I felt horrible about myself. I felt powerless and believed that I could not do anything”.
Ian did not have many interests as a teenager, but that changed on November 19, 2011. Ian went down to his living room where his entire family was watching a UFC event. This was the first time that Ian had been exposed to Mixed Martial Arts. The card was headlined by one of the greatest fights in the history of the sport. Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139. Ian was amazed at what he was witnessing. “I had never seen anything like that before. The way both Henderson and Shogun went back and forth, it was something I thought you could only see in movies. That was the fight that hooked me into the sport”. UFC 139 was the perfect card to convert a first time viewer into a life long fan. A submission by Urijah Faber, a knockout by Wanderlei Silva, and a five round classic from Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Ian has not missed a UFC event since that card.
After watching UFC 139, Ian wanted to learn more about the sport. “I really wanted to see how people trained and prepared for their fights. I began watching their interviews and their training videos. I got to know the sport and its fighters much better this way”. In November of 2013, Ian had gone through an event that would forever change his life.
After knocking out Anderson Silva at UFC 162 in July of 2013, Chris Weidman was set to rematch Silva just five months later at UFC 168. Leading up to the rematch, Weidman had posted on Twitter that he would be hosting an open workout at his gym Power MMA NY in Garden City, New York (now known as Longo and Weidman MMA). Ian, who lived 10 minutes away from Weidman’s gym had asked his father if he could take him to the open workout. “This was the guy that knocked out Anderson Silva. He’s a beast. I wanted to see him in person, so my dad took me and my brother down to the gym”. When Ian entered the gym, Weidman was training in front of a crowd that was filled with fans. After Weidman completed his training, he went around the gym to meet with fans. However, Weidman was particularly drawn into Ian and his brother. “Chris went around meeting fans but he kept looking at me and Alec. After saying hello to a few fans, Chris brought his family to meet me and my brother. His family was so nice to us. Chris thanked us for coming and asked us to take a picture with him. He spent more time with me and my brother than he did with any other fans. A lot of people might not realize it, but Chris is that All-American guy. He did not need to spend that extra time with us, but he did”. Chris was not the only Weidman that provided a memorable experience for Ian and Alec. Chris’s father Charlie Weidman was very excited to meet the two brothers. “Charlie is the best. Every time I think about Charlie I smile because of how nice he has always been to us. He has a really good heart and I think that really rubbed off on Chris”.
After his first visit to Chris Weidman’s gym, Ian’s fascination for the sport became even bigger. “I wanted to know more and I wanted to see more”. Ian asked his father to take him back to Weidman’s gym. He told us there were two particular reasons he wanted to go back for. One, he wanted to get an up close look at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and two, he wanted to see if Chris remembered him. When Ian went back to the gym, Chris Weidman approached him. “Chris and Charlie came up to me, and began talking to me. At this point, I knew they would not forget me”.
During Ian’s 3rd visit to the gym, Nabih Barakat, who was a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the time, had noticed Ian’s intrigue for grappling. Barakat asked Ian if he wanted to get on the mat and learn some techniques. However, Ian was very hesitant. “I was so scared to get on the mat because people could already hurt me the way that I am. My legs are very limited in movement, so I can’t apply in hooks or anything. The only things I had to defend myself were my arms. I didn’t know if I could do it. There were just too many things I was worried about”. Barakat left the door open for Ian in case he changed his mind. After a few days of thinking about Barakat’s offer, Ian decided he would give it a shot. He returned to the gym on February 28th, 2014, where he would take his first class in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
When Ian entered the gym for his first class, he was still a little nervous. “What did I get myself into was what I was thinking”. However, the feeling of nervousness quickly disappeared when he got on the mat. He began to find comfort in what he was trying. It was then that Nabih Barakat taught Ian his first submission, the key lock. “Nabih taught me how to apply a key lock. This was good for me because I have full strength in my arms, and that is what I needed for the key lock”. After watching Barakat demonstrate how to apply a key lock a few times, he asked Ian to place him in the submission. It was at this moment where Ian’s life had changed. Ian placed Barakat in a key lock, and Barakat began to tap. Ian quickly released the submission and began apologizing to Barakat. “I said holy crap did I hurt you? I’m so sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you”. Barakat responded with “No, no, no! Thats good. That means your doing it right”. It was at that moment, that a sense of empowerment came over Ian. He continued to practice the key lock on Barakat, and Barakat continued to tap. “I did it again and again. It felt good knowing that I could actually hurt someone. I know it sounds odd saying that and I would never want to hurt someone, but I knew that I could. I lived my whole life feeling powerless and feeling like I could not do anything. When I learned how to apply a key lock, I felt powerful for the first time in my life”.
The first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class Ian Matuszak took, was the beginning of a journey. Ian, who is a student of Long Island University Post, now goes to Weidman and Longo MMA where he attends Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes two to three times a week. “Jiu Jitsu has allowed me to overcome anything in my life. If anything ever puts me down, Jiu Jitsu picks me right back up again. It has given me the confidence that I never had before. My trainers Pete Sell and Dave Patton have taught me to believe in myself”.
Not only do martial arts teach individuals how to compete in combat, they inject the power of self belief and discipline in them. Ian Matuszak had a rough upbringing, as he battled depression and insecurities. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has taught Ian that when you are faced with a challenge, do not run from it. You will never know what you are capable of unless you go for it.
Update: On February 24th, 2016, Ian Matuszak died of esophageal cancer. Ian constantly faced adversity in his life, but he always put in the effort to fight through it.
“Normally, we think our life is tough and we make excuses sometimes to train, to do what we love. And you see a kid like this, attached to a wheelchair, unable to move his body with the right coordination that normal people have. And you see his will to still learn, to still push, to show me moves" - Renzo Gracie on Ian Matuszak.
Ian fought until the end. He wanted to share his story with the world.