Monday, May 8th, 2006 | 8:36 am | Administrator

Barbaro Hero

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By now you know that an explosive thoroughbred has hit the big time. Barbaro, the Kentucky bred brown beauty won the Race for the Roses this past Saturday at the Churchill Downs racetrack by seven lengths over Bluegrass Cat. Barbaro, undefeated so far this year, could be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed completed the feat in 1978.

But the story isn’t in this amazing horse. The real NICE story is found in the stables with Barbaro’s trainer, Michael Matz.

Matz is a three-time Olympic equestrian rider and arguably one of the best Americans to have ever competed in the sport. He can now add Kentucky Derby winning trainer to his resume.

But Matz is most notably the man who saved two little children and an infant from the fiery wreckage of United Flight 232 in an Iowa cornfield on July 19, 1989. Bumped to the flight in Denver, on his way back from Hawai’i, Matz could not have been prepared for the tragic set of events he was to face later that day.

The plane was trying to make an emergency landing in Iowa after one of four engines exploded mid-flight. As soon as it made touchdown, the plane skidded then flipped over and caught fire. Matz, along with many of the passengers (182 of the 296 people onboard survived), were able to get out of the plane relatively unscathed. He led the two children sitting next to him to safety immediately after the crash. Then came the real hero part: Noticing that his then fiancée, D.D. Alexander, was missing, Matz went back into the fiery fuselage to save her. Unable to find her, he and another heroic man heard a baby crying and ended up saving it from the trappings of an overhead compartment. Matz brought the baby to the safety of the tarmac where he found his fiancée alive and in one piece.

Pretty crazy stuff (I think I saw something like it in a 1990s Dustin Hoffman movie). Some of us really do live charmed lives and Matz would certainly belong to this club. And although it’s at times hard to cheer for the front runner in sports, Barbaro and Matz will certainly have my bets come May 20 at Pimlico Race Course and the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes. I’d love to see the Triple Crown awarded once again and the Matz factor just makes it so much more interesting. Besides, it’s always fun to follow a story of when the good guy wins.

Read this L.A. Times article for an interview with Matz reflecting on his Flight 232 experience.

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