Spotlight on Matt Keller


Our August Spotlight is on Matt Keller.  He is one of our Chicago area Race Guards, and has been a key member of our growing Chicago team for the past two years.  Matt doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, but agreed to do this interview because he wants to do everything he can to support Race Guards. Thank you Matt! You are such an asset to the team.


Q.  How did you first become interested in Race Guards and how long have you been a member?

A.  I first became interested in Race Guards about 2 years ago when I heard about the concept at an event and then researched it. I was instantly hooked on the idea.  I participated in my first race in my home town of Saint Charles, Illinois. It was The Great Western Half in early 2015, and I have tried to do every race that my schedule and body allow me to do since that first race.

Q.  How does your career as a paramedic/firefighter fit in with being a Race Guards member?

A. As a Firefighter/Paramedic we are called to assist people with any and every problem you can think of.  A lot of the people we are seeing are having one of the worst days of their lives, and they need everything from basic support to serious medical attention.  All of the people we help, and even the ones that don't need us, are grateful that we are there when and if they need us.  In joining the Race Guards team, I have noticed the same principle; most racers will not need us, but are grateful that we are there.  The ones who do need us will need anything from morale support and a blister bandage to CPR.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the Chicago Race Guards team and any recent events you have done as well as any events you have coming up?

A. The Chicago team is truly awesome, from our amazing lead Tracy Kilvinger to every one of the Race Guards I have had a privilege to run with out on the course.  We always hear about people doing bad things, and not enough about the good things.  I have been privileged enough to witness and work with some truly pure and unselfish people and see firsthand some of the great things that people are capable of.  We have had 7 events in Chicago alone this year, with at least another 8 coming. During each, we have a team of dedicated Race Guards team members that come out in force and bring so much dedication and knowledge with them.  We have everything from firefighters, to nurses, doctors, physical and respiratory therapists, etc! Each brings something special to every race.

Q. Can you give an example of someone that you helped at a race and how it impacted their race experience?

A. During a race, my partner Jeri and I ended up being near a girl that was having serious IT band issues and was almost ready to stop at mile 6.  Having experienced IT issues myself, I had become knowledgeable in how to make it tolerable.  We stopped and sprayed her with Perform, showed her a few stretches and self-massage techniques for her IT band and sent her on her way.  After mile 9 we never saw her again until a race few weeks ago.  During that race a girl ran up to me as we were standing and watching runners pass by and gave me a hug, and at first I had no idea who she was.  She explained that she had been able to complete the race that we helped her in and has since been working on her IT band as we discussed and her issues were almost gone. She was so thankful for not only the help in the race, but for the assistance in being able to continue to heal from her injury.  People often ask me if anyone ever says thank you in my line of work.  My answer is always that a thank you is not needed, but when we do get them, and they are special.

Q.  What is your funniest Race Guards moment?

A. The tick. We were running in Leon's Tri in Indiana and the run goes through a path under a high voltage area and tall grass.  As two other Race Guard members and I were waiting for some of the last runners to come through, I felt something on my leg. I looked down and could see a tick had landed on it.  I quickly brushed it off. Our team lead Tracy saw me and asked me what it was. Not thinking, I answered that it was a tick.  She instantly did a body check of herself and started looking around for ticks and wondering where the tick was that I knocked away. A few minutes later another tick landed on her, and she knocked it off and again didn't see where it went. Needless to say, we spent the next few miles avoiding the tall grass and triple checking ourselves for the "ghost ticks" as she referred to them. Try going to sleep with that in your head later!

Q.  What is your favorite post race or training pig-out food?

A.  Probably my easiest question to answer; pizza.  I try and eat as healthy as I can, and actually switched my diet about 9 months ago to Pesco/vegetarian, but the one thing I can never give up is Chicago's pizza, which is still amazing with veggies on it.

Q.  What is your fitness background and have you had any physical challenges or injuries along the way?

When I was younger shortly after high school I was overweight and not very active.  Most male members of my family were also overweight or died very young of cardiac related issues so I just accepted this as my fate.  Then one day I "woke up" and decided that maybe I could be different and do things that I never thought possible.  So I changed my diet, began to exercise and run, and lost weight.  After a while, I decided to sign up for a few races and even a triathlon to stay motivated. I was hooked from the first one.  This year I will compete in my 5th straight Chicago Triathlon and my 3rd Fox Valley Marathon.  Last year I was blessed enough to be able to complete the Lake Placid Ironman after 2 years of training, a goal I once thought unobtainable.  Unfortunately I have not been able to do these races without my share of injuries.  I have suffered the usual strains and sprains, from hamstrings, to quadriceps, to ankles, and have been able to heal and continue through each.  Last year while training for the Ironman, I suffered a back injury in early March.  An MRI revealed a very small bulged disc in the Lumbar spine, with a larger issue as well.  The doctor informed me that I was born with Spinal Stenosis, a narrow spinal canal, which was causing the bulge to feel worse in me than most.  I was fortunate enough that the injury was small, and that I could continue training toward my goal.  After the Ironman, I guess my body had enough and needed a few months of therapy, injections, and just plain rest; yuck!   Today I feel better than I have in years and think about the times I wasn't able to run which keeps a smile on my face and keeps me motivated for the last few miles of the long run. The doctors have told me that if I can stay lean and strong then I shouldn't have many restrictions and can continue living an active life, which is awesome.

Q.  How do you stay in shape during Chicago winters?!

A.  Treadmills and bike trainers during the worst months, unfortunately.  But if there isn't ice on the ground, then running outside after bundling up is much better than running in place.

Q. How would you sum up your philosophy of life in one sentence?

A.  We are all capable of doing something to help make this world a better place, whether it be a large impact or a small one, we each can play our part.

Q. How does being a Race Guards member tie into your philosophy of life?

A. I think when you find something you can do to help make the world better, and it's also something you love to do, then it just comes naturally.

Thank you Matt for an inspiring and interesting interview!

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