People of PNO: Matthew Tilford

Matthew Tilford enjoys a day of water skiing. Photo courtesy Tilford

You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is all you have

A friendly camping trip in 2007 quite literally changed Matthew Tilford’s life after he was ejected from his seat during a car accident, leaving him a T-12 Paraplegic.

Tilford continued to find himself unhappy after years of pushing away from the disability community. He was active in sports throughout his childhood, playing baseball and hitting the slopes to snowboard and the water to wakeboard as frequently as the weather would allow. But the accident left him in an unfamiliar place.

“I couldn’t keep up with my friends anymore,” says Tilford. He then began to seek out the people he could play sports with. This lead him to the disability community, where he’s now an inspiration.

Tilford is a motivational speaker. He talks to the newly-injured around his area of Modesto, Calif., encouraging them to stay as active as possible.

“I try to give them the advice that I didn’t first take,” says Tilford. He emphasizes finding a recreational, non-profit organization that has adaptive sports – and to try them all. “That’s what I did with Disabled Sports USA,” says Tilford. He found a passion for waterskiing, and recently started hand cycling as well.

He was also invited back to Stanford hospital, the place he spent 30 days in a coma after his accident. This time it was for a different reason. He spoke to nearly the entire staff of doctors, encouraging them in their line of work.

“They always see people at their worst,” says Tilford. He had the chance to show them just how far he’d come since being treated there.

Tilford has quite a presence in social media as well. He’s an ambassador for “Back Bones Online”, an online-based mentoring website for people affected by spinal cord injuries. People are paired with others who are also paralyzed, allowing them to share thoughts and experiences.

“I thought, ‘This is perfect. This is what I pushed away from,’” says Tilford of Back Bones Online. Families of those with spinal cord injuries are also able to find each other for support. He also is a contributor to “Rolling Without Limits”, a disability blog where he shares personal experiences.

As an ambassador for Ekso Bionics, Tilford has the opportunity to promote the eksoskeleton robots that use the latest technology to defy certain physical limitations.

“I get to show it off,” says Tilford. Initially created for the military, the innovative Ekso Bionics have branched into the disability/paralyzed community.

Despite his hesitation to immerse himself into the disability community at first, Tilford has undoubtedly become a figure of inspiration. Using his personal story to help and inspire others, his positive impact is just beginning to flourish.

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