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Marcinek grapples with cerebral palsy

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Marcinek

Matthew Marcinek, Marywood alum, provides hope to those with disabilities.

Dave Scarnato, Sports Co-Editor
February 21, 2012

Marywood grad teaches mixed martial arts despite setback

Having an 0-75 record isn’t what anyone would want in any sport, especially in a combat sport like judo. But for Marywood alum Matt Marcinek, it isn’t about a winning record; it’s about an opportunity. After all, Matt has been a fighter all his life.

Marcinek has Cerebral Palsy (CP), a neurological impairment that affects his balance. He has had four surgeries since he was five years old. CP affects his left arm due to tonal spasticity. He is also confined to a wheelchair. Because of his physical setbacks, Marcinek had a difficult time when it came to participating in sports physically and psychologically.

As a senior in high school, Marcinek decided to join the wrestling team. He was not allowed to participate in any matches because the administration felt that he was a liability with his physical impairment. To some people with a physical setback like Marcinek’s, that type of treatment might have been a blow to optimism. But for Marcinek, it was just the motivation he needed.

“I’m a pretty competitive guy,” Marcinek stated. “Even though I was denied the opportunity to wrestle, I looked for other opportunities to compete. That’s where I found judo.”

Judo is a full-contact sport where the object is to pin an opponent for a significant amount of time. No punches are thrown.

Although he is 0-75 in competitive judo matches, Marcinek has earned quite a few accolades. He holds a 1st degree brown belt, one step away from black belt, which is mastery in the craft. He also participates in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, another form of combat, where he holds a blue belt. He said he hopes to compete in Jiu-Jitsu this spring. Currently, Marcinek is a mixed martial arts (MMA) instructor in both judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Scranton MMA. Tom McGuire of Scranton MMA said he believes that Matt’s perseverance influences his students when his class is in session.

“Having Matt teach is truly something special,” instructor McGuire said. “New students see him and know that they have no excuses. If they get hit hard or get hurt, they know they have to fight through it because Matt has gone through much worse. If something is sore, keep it to yourself and work through it.”

Marcinek’s hard work shows in his teachings, too.

“Matt is so consistent,” said McGuire. “There are no excuses. Matt does the hardest workouts. He trains with everyone the same way. His hard work and determination comes out in his teaching and everyone feeds off of him.”

Athletically, Marcinek found success in the two sports, as well in his everyday life, which he believes originates from the love and support of his family in anything he does athletically, whether it be rock climbing or mixed martial arts.

“My parents and family have been behind me one hundred percent in everything I do,” said Marcinek. “It never mattered what I wanted to do. They would always have my back and gave me support in any sport or activity I wanted to try. I really appreciate what they have done for me.”

His parents’ ongoing support saw Matt earn an Eagle Scout Badge, as well as a B.A. in English from Marywood University. He owns his own company, Disabled Grappler. Through this company, Marcinek is a motivational speaker, attending assemblies in high schools and local organizations throughout the area, where he tells his story of success. He also talks to individuals with disabilities.

“I tell these people that everyone has a huge gift,” said Marcinek. “That gift is potential. Every person has a potential inside them, impaired or not.”

An advocate of instilling hard work and determination, Marcinek helps spread the awareness of cerebral palsy.

“My message is to break the stigma of what people perceive CP as,” Marcinek explained. “I try to rid people of the typical CP stereotypes. I’m not paralyzed. I’m not mentally impaired. I’m normal like everyone else. I just have it a little bit harder.”

With that attitude, it seems that Marcinek has all the ingredients in life to be successful. His physical setbacks do not get the best of him. Rather than sulk about what cards in life he has been dealt, Marcinek embraces them and makes the best of the situation.

Marywood’s motto is “Lead On.” For Marcinek, his perseverance in life and fight to prove himself as an athlete displays his characteristics of a great leader.

For more about Matt’s story, visit disabledgrappler.org.

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