November 3, 2017
I met Matt Burgess in 2012 as part of a No Barriers Warriors climb up Cotopaxi, a 19,347-foot volcano in Ecuador. During training I learned about Matt’s numerous medical conditions, which happened in his Army deployments: several TBIs, a 50% decrease of his lung capacity due to inhaling exploded depleted uranium, and later an adverse reaction to the anthrax vaccination. Matt was in a bad place, and had a lot of reasons to give up and recoil from life.
However, not only did Matt summit Cotopaxi and stay committed to No Barriers, but as a result of the experience, started his own non-profit. Freedom Fidos provides service dogs to injured veterans. Located in Columbus, GA, Freedom Fido’s rescues and trains dogs from shelters and then matches veterans with dogs who are a perfect fit.
Matt cresting the ridge and spying the summit of Cotopaxi after an exhausting journey. Photo credit: Didrik Johnck
Matt (on the far right with an ice axe) with his Cotopaxi Soldiers to Summits Teammates. Photo credit: Didrik Johnck
Matt work saves lives. These service dogs have stopped suicides; they remind their owners to take medications, and their relationships with their owners empower clients to live healthier happier, more fulfilled lives.
Photo Credit: Freedom Fidos
Freedom Fidos has some awesome new updates including wonderful additions to their board; folks like No Barriers Warrior, Eric Donoho and passionate No Barriers supporters, Joe and Memmy Staber. Their involvement will enable Fido’s to keep growing and reaching new levels of engagement with the Veteran community.
A Veteran with his service dog. Photo credit: Freedom Fidos
Photo credit: Freedom Fidos
Matt has also forged a powerful partnership with Fortune 500 Multinational Financial services giant and No Barriers sponsor Prudential. They have invited Freedom Fidos to attend and speak at their annual conference, and one gentleman at Prudential generously contributed to sponsoring a dog for a No Barriers Alumni.
When I receive updates from Matt I am reminded of how we met on the mountain and of the struggles he harnessed to get where he is today. That process towards growth is tenuous but Matt pushed forward in an open-hearted way. I am super proud of his Summits, but more importantly, how he has elevated the world through his No Barriers journey.
Here’s a passage from my book, No Barriers, in which Matt explains his philosophy on forging ahead instead of giving up:
“I’m terrified of that light. I fear success more than I do failure. See, failure’s easy. It’s familiar, like an old friend, but the idea of success is overwhelming. So I make excuses, mistrust everyone, and overdramatize things—all to avoid success … It’s easier to sabotage yourself than it is to build something.”
“What is that light?” I asked.
Matt was deep in thought for a minute and then said, “I think of it as being centered, full of assurance that no matter what happens, we will be okay. For me, that means loving myself, which is sometimes hard to do. We often spend our lives disconnected from our potential, from ourselves. It would have been so much easier to stay home, to not even apply to this program, to stay in the darkness I was living in. The light was terrifying. Although I know the light will propel me forward, I know it’s also a path with the most resistance.”