"Toast of the town" - by Kent Miller, Managing Editor, IonMesquite.com
Matt Hernandez’ big day may have come a couple of weeks ago when he captured a silver medal at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles but the 22-year-old proved to be the toast of the town when city officials and a crowd of enthusiastic well-wishers gathered to honor him during Monday’s city council meeting.
With family, friends and Special Olympics teammates on hand to share the honor, Mayor Stan Pickett declared Aug. 17, 2015 as Matthew Hernandez Day.
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment what you did,” Pickett told Hernandez. “We are very proud of your accomplishments and what you’ve done for the city. We can’t express in words – and we’ve tried to do it in a small way – what you mean [to Mesquite].”
Along with the proclamation honoring him, council members also recognized Hernandez by unveiling a banner that will hang permanently at Evans Recreation Center and a street sign that will pay tribute to his efforts and achievements.
The street – Honorary Road between Scyene Road and Military Parkway just off of LBJ Freeway – will carry the name Matt Hernandez Drive for the next 30 days and, according to Texas Special Olympics officials, this marks the first time one of their athletes has ever been honored in such a way.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Archer presented a copy of the street sign to Hernandez.
“Matt, we are so stinkin proud of you,” Archer told Hernandez. “We are blessed that you are here. You have embodied all that is great in Mesquite – your hard work, your dedication – you have set the bar for so many. I hear all over town how proud everyone is of you.”
Mayor Pro Tem Greg Noschese unveiled the banner and other council members also passed on their congratulations to Hernandez as he was presented with a bevy of other treats.
“All of us here on the council were amazed and humbled at what you’ve accomplished,” Noschese said.
Hernandez was obviously overwhelmed as he thanked the council and others for recognizing him.
“I was honored and privileged to represent my country, my family, my teammates, my co-workers and the great city of Mesquite at the Special Olympics World Games of 2015,” Hernandez said. He also thanked those who helped him raise the money needed to travel to Los Angeles.
A graduate of North Mesquite High School and a Mesquite ISD employee as a bus monitor, Hernandez was one of 14 Texans who qualified for the World Games. He also placed fourth place in the 200 meters in addition to his silver medal in the 500 meters.
Doctors first told his family that he likely wouldn’t live past his 11th birthday and that he wouldn’t be able to walk, talk or eat on his own. Diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome – a rare genetic multisystem disorder that affects many organ systems of the body – when he was just 3 months old, Hernandez has certainly proved those doctors wrong.
He qualified for the World Games by competing in the 2014 Special Olympics kayaking competition held in Galveston and prepared for his California competition by training five to six days a week at White Rock Lake under the guidance of Keith Townsend and Travis Smith.
Hernandez was introduced to kayaking by Casey Allen – MISD’s special education coordinator – in 2011 at a time when the program offered only basketball and track.