Apr 15, 2022 11:00 AM

Read time: 4 minutes

Huntsman Hero Matt Elizondo at the 2021 Huntsman SportsFest finish line.

Matt Elizondo lives a life of service—he’s a registered nurse who spent 10 years in the military, including a tour of Iraq in a trauma support unit. After a diagnosis of a rare but treatable chronic blood cancer, Matt’s sense of duty was stronger than ever.

Matt started treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute with a week of chemotherapy. He recalls his thought process as he went home each day and passed individuals who couldn’t do the same: “My cancer may not be as insidious as theirs. I have no excuse but to reach out and help any way that I can,” he says. “That was always in the back of my mind during chemo.”

Later that year, Matt met Huntsman Heroes cycling coach Kelly Hicks at a gym in Bountiful, Utah. Kelly noticed Matt’s bike shorts and struck up a conversation. He invited Matt to try the Huntsman Heroes cycling program in order to train and race with a supportive group while raising money for Huntsman Cancer Institute. “I felt like this was something I could do to start to help give back,” Matt says.

Matt has cycled since his time as a University of Utah (U of U) student in the 1990s, when he rode for the club team. He enjoys the sport’s fitness benefits and freedom, as well as the opportunity to experience new settings. Matt had participated in long-distance rides before, but after meeting Kelly, one in particular stood out—Huntsman SportsFest’s 140-mile trek.

infographic of cancer survivors participating in sportsfest

Matt started to train for the June 2021 event until a March crash left him with a broken hand. He had surgery and stopped cycling for several weeks. Then he worked closely with Huntsman Heroes coaches, including Kelly and Solomon Brumbaugh, to train without exacerbating his injury. As he pushed himself, he thought of the patients he saw during his treatment—those who couldn’t leave the hospital every day like he did: “I'm going to ride for them.”

On race day, one of Matt’s goals was perseverance. He experienced hand pain, mechanical difficulties, and fatigue, but crossed the finish line with support from his coaches and fellow Heroes. He also surpassed another goal: he raised $1,425 for Huntsman Cancer Institute, nearly three times his target. He hopes to raise even more in 2022, when he rides 140 miles for a second time.

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s mission is near and dear to Matt, who previously worked there as a nurse and now trains clinical staff across several U of U Health areas. “I’m biased, but during treatment I had a lot of hope because of how Huntsman Cancer Institute treats patients,” Matt says. “It has a fantastic reputation and a home-like, family atmosphere.”

matt and kelly riding in Hunstman sportsfest
Huntsman Heroes coach Kelly Hicks and Matt Elizondo ride 140 miles in Huntsman SportsFest on June 12, 2021.

Even as a Huntsman Heroes freshman, Matt brought that family atmosphere to the team. “Matt embodied the ideal Huntsman Hero, putting his ego to the side and striving to participate in a way that inspires those around him to have a positive impact in the world,” Solomon says. “He did that through his cheerful demeanor, and keeping the focus on our mission despite the hurdles he was facing.” Kelly echoed that sentiment. “Matt is simply someone who will not quit.”

Matt’s time in the military taught him to lead by example and protect others. As a Huntsman Hero, he wants to apply those values by encouraging his teammates to cross the finish line with him. “I’m still new to this, but it’s very important to me," he says. “My motto is, however or wherever I can help.”

matt at finish line holding his bike over his head

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