When Jim Hawkins of Children's Hospice International nominated Mattie Stepanek as a hero on this Web site, the young poet hero was only six years old and had already written several hundred poems. Mattie was suffering from a hereditary disease called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, as was his mother. This rare form of muscular dystrophy had already claimed the lives of his three older siblings. Mattie passed away on the morning of June 22, 2004. Mattie’s poems of peace and hope have touched millions of lives; his heartsongs will continue to reach people of all ages around the world for decades to come.

Mattie Stepanek

by Jim Hawkins from Children's Hospice International

When I grow up, I want to be a peacemaker. My biggest role model for this is Jimmy Carter, who has been a wonderful peanut farmer, politician, and peacemaker... I call him the 'perfect hero. - Mattie Stepanek

127308Mattie StepanekJim Hawkins Mattie suffered from a hereditary disease called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that had already claimed the lives of his three older siblings. Mattie's mother, Jeni, also suffers from the same disease. Mattie needed to take a portable oxygen tank on wheels with him wherever he went. Many times his illness would land him in bed in the intensive care unit of the children's hospital. Outside, Mattie was only able to move about in his motorized wheelchair. Even though Mattie battled a terminal illness for many years, Mattie never saw his condition as an obstacle between him and his goals.

He began writing when he was about 3 years old. Before he passed away in June, 2004, Mattie had written thousands of poems, dozens of essays and short stories, and presented a bound anthology of his writing to the Library of Congress. He received many awards for his writing, including the Melinda A. Lawrence International Book Award in 1999 for “most inspirational work.”

Here is a sample of his poetry: 

On Being a Champion

A Champion is a winner,
A hero...
Someone who never gives up
Even when the going gets rough.
A champion is a member of
A winning team...
Someone who overcomes challenges
Even when it requires creative solutions.
A champion is an optimist,
A hopeful spirit...
Someone who plays the game,
Even when the game is called life.
There can be a champion in each of us,
If we live as a winner,
If we live as a member of the team,
If we live with a hopeful spirit,
For Life.

From the book JOURNEY THROUGH HEARTSONGS by Mattie J.T. Stepanek. Copyright (c) 2001 Mattie J.T. Stepanek. Published by Hyperion. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

127310Mattie and Jim HawkinsJim HawkinsHis love of reading and writing evolved into public speaking, earning him the Maryland State Goodwill Ambassadorship for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. During his short lifetime, he enthusiastically participated in fundraising events to help find a cure for neuromuscular diseases, and to encourage children and families suffering from these diseases to celebrate life until a cure is found.

In Mattie’s words, “. . .we must remember to play after every storm and to celebrate the gift of life as we have it, or else life becomes a task, rather than a gift. We must always listen to the song in our heart, and share that song with others.”

Little Mattie has somehow acquired more wisdom in his short life than most of us do after decades of living. Through his poetry, he expresses wisdom in a way that touches anyone's heart. With his unabashed enthusiasm for life Mattie has charmed everyone who has crossed his path. Mattie has inspired many people, young and old, to overcome every obstacle they may encounter and strive for their goals with dignity and humanity. THANK YOU, MATTIE!

Page created on 7/13/2015 11:33:07 AM

Last edited 7/10/2018 1:20:05 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Mattie Online - Visit Mattie's personal Web site.
Children's Hospice International - Angel Hero Ann Armstrong-Dailey is the director of Children's Hospice International.

Extra Info

Jeni Stepanek wrote in the MY HERO Guestbook: My hero is: Mattie Stepanek, my son. Through Mattie's innocent and uncensored expressions about life as he sees it, and feels it, and thinks about it, I have been inspired to think more deeply about my own life. Sometimes, it takes the wisdom of a child, for us to really appreciate what we DO have in life, and to remember to celebrate the gift of every day. Lyn Mox added this comment about MATTIE in the MY HERO Guestbook: My hero is: Mattie Stepanek. Just wanted to say that in my personal life, Mattie is my hero and glad to see that someone else outside of my family and friends agrees. Mattie is friends and schoolmates with my son. Please keep giving us more jewels like Mattie and his mother Jeni. Rebecca Corrine Schonwalder from Pennsylvania wrote to MY HERO about Mattie on December 16, 1998: I honor that a person like Mattie Stepanek would tell people about how he feels and he is only 6. I am 17 and I don't know how to tell people how I feel. On October 19, 2001, Dale-Anne Smith wrote about Mattie and his poetry: Thank you so much for your page about Mattie. I am a 29-year-old single mother of a beautiful little 2-year-old girl. In this last year, since separating from her father, and moving from the States back to my home in Canada, I have gone through many dark moments of fear and uncertainty. Reading Mattie's poems on your site really helped me see things in their true perspective. He is a true hero, an old soul, and a blessing to this planet. I wish I could hug that little man right now and breathe in his energy; he has touched my heart in a profound way. After seeing Mattie on the Oprah Winfrey Show, 81-year-old Elizabeth Haestie wrote: I "met" Mattie for the first time today on the Oprah show - I am an 81-year-old English lady, in good health, but sometimes feel somewhat depressed that I don't have a great many more years ahead of me in this life. But Mattie knocked all those feelings out of my mind altogether, and I don't think they will ever return. I am an "old soul" too, Mattie, as you are, and I shall remember you and your mother all the rest of my life. You are my hero, too. On 12 October 2003, Jim Hawkins wrote: Mattie was the opening speaker at the CHI World Congress in Alexandria in September and, of course, wowed everyone. He surprised me while I was taking photos by announcing the creation of a "Mattie Stepanek Champion Award" and presenting it to me. That brought a lump to my throat. The "Mattie Stepanek Champion Award" was created two years ago by Ann Armstrong-Dailey and CHI to honor Mattie's contributions to children everywhere. Read other comments from visitors to MY HERO about Mattie. Add your comments about Mattie and other inspirational heroes to the MY HERO Guestbook.

Related Books