The weather will likely be hot on Aug. 5 when former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and his brother Josh host their inaugural golf outing at the Georgia Club, benefiting ESP — Extra Special People. It won’t bother Matthew Dooley, however. He will be leading cheers for the Murray family, who will have helped bring this benevolent occasion about.
Even when he was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs and returned home from a night game on the road, Aaron would find time on his off day to visit with any group of kids whom ESP Executive Director Laura Whitaker assembled to spend time talking football with the Bulldog icon.
This “Hedges” hero has always extended a helping hand to special needs kids, such as Matthew, whose lineage gives him an advantage when it comes to discoursing about the game that enraptures so much of America and practically all of Athens in the fall. Matthew’s love of football came naturally. More about that later.
Matthew, with a football heritage, is a passionate baseball fan. He has become one of the most rabid fans of Georgia baseball, always sitting behind home plate for games at Foley Field. Staying active is Matthew’s unflagging mission. When he is not seated behind home plate for Bulldog home baseball games and working as a development assistant for ESP, he can often be found at the Monroe Airport, where he often goes to skydive.
As of today, he has tandem jumped nine times, which is nine times more than most people you know. You might be shocked when you learn that Matthew has cerebral palsy. While I don’t know who could confirm — Matthew probably is the reigning cerebral palsy skydiving champion of Georgia. Maybe even regionally or nationally.
When Matthew is “up there,” he finds the journey peaceful and fulfilling. “It is the only time when I feel that I don’t have a disability,” he told Laura Whitaker after his first jump. He took to skydiving like a farmer to a garden. Afterwards, his first reaction was, “When can I do it again?”
By now, you likely have picked up on the fact that attitude has made a difference in Matthew’s life. He is always smiling and offering encouragement in his accentuate-the-positive world. He wants to set an example for others, especially those who have a disability. Understandably, there are things that he cannot do. This leads Matthew to focus on the things he can do: Take his position behind home plate at Foley Field and let the Dawgs know of his unending support; make the skydiving personnel in Monroe know of his deep and abiding affection for what they have done to bring him pleasurable and lofty emotional fulfillment that he can do something many others are afraid to do — even those without any handicap.
He speaks at luncheons and is a summer camp counselor. He serves as a camp volunteer at the ESP Center in Watkinsville, where he spent his first night away from home.
He no longer plays baseball because there is no improvised league for him. He speaks on behalf of kids with cerebral palsy to raise money to build a field and connect with a league … the ESP Miracle League (espmiracleleague.org). If he wants to talk about football on an elevated level, he can start with his father, Daniel, who played at Clarke Central, or his grandfather, Vince Dooley, who needs no introduction.
Recently the Dooleys hosted a luncheon in which Matthew spoke, much of his remarks including an entertaining repartee with his ebullient grandmother, Barbara. Those in attendance were impressed with Matthew’s positive preachments and his appreciation for the gift of life.
When you are having a bad day, you should think about Matthew and that he is never down, never finding fault and never giving up, which should bring pause to your day.
He wakes up every day with a smile. He offers thanks for simple things like his wheelchair; for a loving family, the Bulldogs and caring friends; for the great outdoors, and for the opportunity to view God’s beautiful world from 10,000 thousand feet up, floating like a mesmerized butterfly, landing with uninhibited euphoria knowing there will be an encore.
Matthew is about giving, forgiving, love and laughter. His wish is to stamp out complaining and to make your day. His story makes my day. Here’s hoping it makes yours.