SALT LAKE CITY – Born and raised in Buffalo New York, David Matyjasik moved to Utah several years ago, although every year he returned to his home state for a special dinner that one of his aunts used to offer at Thanksgiving. It was around the ’80s when one of those special dinners changed his life.
"I remember we had a big family dinner and my two cousins Paul and Tony were there, and Tony had a big briefcase," Matyjasik said. "He always calls me ‘Cousin David, Cousin David.’ At the table he was doing that, and my Aunt Emily was saying, ‘Leave him alone, leave him alone; you can show him after we have dinner.’ So then finally we got time and he opened up and inside of this briefcase there were all this medals, medals that they won. Included with the letters, he had a letter hand-signed by Hugh Carey (then governor of New York)."
The letter was an original, not a copy, and stated that Matyjasik’s cousin would represent the state of New York in the Special Olympics USA games.
"He [Tony] had an invitation inviting him to participate... This was a time that many of the big-sport athletes were making a lot of money but they seemed to be unhappy," remembered Matyjasik, adding that seeing his cousin’s enthusiasm and hearing how he spoke about the opportunity changed his life. "I had the honor to be a presenter at that time and at the end, to see the joy on their faces and then for them to yell ‘yes,’ afterword they are hugging each other…. It’s true sportsmanship."
When Matyjasik moved to Utah he brought that memory with him. He became a Knight of Columbus in 1993, regularly attended council and assembly meetings, and served as Grand Knight and Faithful Navigator. He met with then-State Deputy Chuck Dover, who offered him the position of Special Olympics coordinator for the Utah State Knights of Columbus.
Matyjasik happily accepted, even though "we had nothing, literally nothing at that time," he said. He started by creating a calendar, then attending all the council and assembly meetings to present his plan for the Knights’ support of Special Olympics. He asked for donations, organized Knights’ color guards for the competitions and arranged Dine and Donate events at restaurants that agreed to contribute a portion of the proceeds to Special Olympics.
By the end of the 2012 term, Matyjasik will have raised more than $40,000 for Special Olympics through the Knights, which led him to be named this year’s Knight of the Year.
"No one knew the potential he had," said State Deputy Ray Lopez of Matyjasik.
"Being nominated by my council is an honor, but then to be awarded it ... I am very proud of being a Knight and I feel very honored to accept the award," Matyjasik said. "It’s very humbling. When your name is displayed on this big plaque at Saint Martin de Porres Parish, and literary it says who is who for the Knights, it really opens your eyes."
For Matyjasik, however, serving his community is more important than the award and recognition. "We have received a lot of blessings and we have a lot to be thankful for," he said.
His cousin Tony is now 58 years old and still competing, a feat that impresses Matyjasik, who used to believe that Special Olympics was just for young people but, as he said, "you’d be surprised about how many people in their middle 30s and older compete. That’s one thing about Special Olympics: The athletes are very competitive and they tease each other, but at the end there is true sportsmanship. They hug and congratulate each other and they can’t wait for the next occasion."