How do we choose the Blue Trainer of the year, you may wonder? Is it the student with the greatest ACT or SAT improvement? The most community service hours? The best smile? Best essay? Craziest hair? Slinkiest dance moves? What is it already?!
Well, you see, the hard to come by title of “Blue Trainer of the Year” is given to a Blue Train student who we believe has demonstrated an “extraordinary sense of poise throughout the college process.” And we mean poise in the oldest sense of the word: Exhibiting great strength and balance, even under the greatest of pressure.
Enter Matt Cooper, Palos Verdes High School student, Class of 2014.
Let’s rewind to the morning Matt woke up—previously a lacrosse player with strong recruitment potential—to realize his leg was completely paralyzed. On the way to the hospital every thought imaginable must have raced through his mind, yet none that could have prepared him for the next two years of his life…
We first met Matt at the end of his sophomore year, a few months after he returned home from UCLA Children’s Hospital—where he had been admitted after two weeks of intensive care, where his body struggled to fight off a highly volatile yet undiagnosed virus. After moving from bed to wheelchair to standing on his own power, Matt sweated his way through physical therapy to walking again, his leg atrophied but functioning.
At the initial in-house Blue Train Meet and Greet, Matt rubbed his newly rehabilitated leg. In characteristically honest Matt fashion, he admitted that the last six months were the hardest of his life but that he was committed to shaking it all off and entering junior year strong. He already had a short list of top tier colleges in mind. We warned him that his ambitions were high, especially since he still had some sophomore schoolwork to make up, but something in his eyes was beyond that living room conversation. He believed he needed to run to find his legs again.
And that’s when Matt relapsed—or whatever it’s called when an unknown disease reappears in a different disguise, twisting and ripping your body in a new direction. Before Matt even a chance to begin his junior year, he was back in the hospital with cardiac scares, bleeding ulcers, and a multitude of other unpleasantries that left him lying in hospital beds, both scared and angry. At one point he remembers thinking, “Give me a diagnosis! Good or bad, just give me something damn it!” But that continued to be the one thing no one could give him, and the hospital visits, pain and complications continued to braid together, stretching thin with his patience and what was beginning to feel like the last of his sanity.
“Welcome to Rochester, Minnesota.” A life-changing greeting this turned out to be as Matt stepped off the plane to meet with doctors at the Mayo Clinic, which after months of silence had finally signed on to take his case. Within a few weeks, a team of world-renowned doctors was able to untangle the diseases, viruses and damaged nerves that had literally brought Matt to his knees over a year ago. Now, with a primary diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Matt was able to receive treatment and return home in May of what should have been his junior year.
Healthy, happy, home. But now what? Matt asked. He had just missed the most important year of high school. All of his friends had just finished their APs and had already sat for at least one SAT or ACT. Many of them had their college lists completed and ideas brewing for their essays. How could he catch up? How could he apply for college? How could he get his life back on track?
That’s when Matt hopped back on the Blue Train. In addition to offering college guidance, accelerated test prep and essay support, our team worked hard to provide the tools that would help empower him to get past all these obstacles without losing his balance or compromising his health. It was a compressed timeline of an entire junior year of catch-up work jammed into an already busy first semester senior year. By the time his last application was submitted, Matt had simultaneously conquered his junior and senior year classes, crushed the ACT and crafted meaningful essays and supplements to all the schools that truly mattered to him. On top of that, he found time to give back to medicine and the doctors that helped him by embarking on research into the disease that had devastated him for so long.
To everyone at Blue Train, it matters less where someone like Matt gets in and more the character and poise he demonstrated along the way. Before we even knew which schools would be accepting him, we chose him as Blue Trainer of the Year and awarded him a special engraved iPad Mini to show our appreciation for his spirit and hard work. Since that time, Matt has been accepted to UCLA, UC Berkeley and is currently on wait list at Dartmouth and Yale. We wish him all the luck in the world and know that whichever school gets him will be better for his presence. We can say this from experience.
Thank you for trusting us to guide you on such an amazing journey.
With love and respect,
The entire Blue Train Family