By Andreas Butler
For Hometown News
Nels Matson is a runner with a purpose.
On a 1,200-mile run from Bradenton to the Cambodian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on June 21, he stopped at Daytona Beach City Hall after running 35 miles that day en route to his goal. He began his journey on June 15 and is scheduled to end it on July 15.
The 30-year-old substitute teacher and wrestling coach at Lakewood Ranch High School in Bradenton is running to raise $21,000 for children with congenital heart defects. The money will go to children in Cambodia for surgery.
"It is important to raise awareness and funds. This affects about one in 100 or one in 110 people no matter where you are born in the world," Mr. Matson said. "In this country, we have more resources than most. That is why I decided to do this. We are currently at $9,000 right now and it costs $3,000 per surgery. The goal is to do at least seven surgeries."
He is the founder of Tri4 Number 1 Foundation Inc., a 501c3 non-profit organization that assists other non-profits in providing support and raising funds for those with congenital heart defects.
The run will assist Hearts Without Boundaries of Long Beach, Calif. HWB also is a 501c3 non-profit organization, and funds cardiac teams from the U.S. to perform heart surgeries on impoverished children in Cambodia. They also sponsor Cambodian children with the most severe CHDs to travel to other countries for heart surgeries.
Mr. Matson can relate to those with heart conditions, because he also has a congenital heart defect.
"I was born with three or four of my pulmonary veins going in the wrong place. I had surgery when I was young, but as an adult, I haven't had problems. A lot of these little guys deal with this on a daily basis," he said.
Mr. Matson came up with the idea while at an event in Daytona Beach.
"I was in Daytona for an event for Mended Little Hearts when I heard about 'Hearts without Boundaries.' I met their founder, Peter Trent, who asked me to do something for the charity. I decided to run to D.C.," he said.
There are obstacles in his way to complete the task but Mr. Matson remains focused.
"I have mental obstacles but I know that there are seven Cambodian children that need a new lease on life. There is no option for them, so there is no option for me to quit. That motivates me. I wouldn't do this for nothing. This is worth it," he said.
While on his task, Mr. Matson receives mixed reactions.
"There are always people who don't think that you can do it," he said. "There are also others that think that you are crazy."
A few local parents with kids with congenital heart defects were on hand when Mr. Matson made his visit. Christie Merklin was there with her five-year old daughter, Lauren, while Nicole Perrino came with her seven-year old daughter, Alexis.
Both parents are part of the Mended Little Heats of Volusia County, which provides support for children with congenital heart defects locally. They were thrilled with Mr. Matson's run.
"What he is doing is very inspiring considering that he has a heart condition himself," Ms. Merklin said. "To have the courage and a big heart to do this for others is just wonderful."
"He is amazing for what he does and he is an inspiration for all the families experiencing this," Ms. Perrino said. "He motivates others with the condition that they can achieve whatever they desire."