South Kitsap’s Key finds bond in meeting Olympian
By CHRIS CHANCELLOR
Port Orchard Independent Staff Writer
October 17, 2012 · 9:34 PM
A question rarely evokes more than a one-word response from him.
But that changed when Matt Key talked about the opportunity to meet Ashton Eaton, a gold medalist who holds the world record in both the decathlon and heptathlon events, earlier this month.
Key, 21, learned about Eaton and his accomplishments last spring in South Kitsap School District’s Community Transition Program.
That program is open to South Kitsap High School students in the special education program, who can elect through recommendations from their teachers, to continue their education in CTP. Students 18 to 21 years old are eligible.
Key, who began participating in cross county and track as an eighth grader at the behest of the late Dale Macomber, who was a physical-education teacher at John Sedgwick Junior High, competes in the Special Olympics.
When he found out that Eaton runs similar events to him, such as the 200- and 400-meter dashes, Key became intrigued in his fellow runner. CTP paraeducator Laura Lane, who is friends with Eaton’s mother, Roslyn, shared his story. Shortly after, Key received an autographed photo from Eaton in the mail.
The correspondence between Key, who has won Special Olympics gold medals in the running long jump, 400 and 400 relay, which he anchors, did not end there. Lane found out that Eaton would be the keynote speaker at the Oct. 2-3 Metaswitch Forum a few months beforehand in Orlando, Fla.
Lane and CTP coordinator Robin Christman began talking about the longshot possibility of finding affordable airfare and lodging that would be required for Key, who would be accompanied by his father, to meet Eaton.
“Let’s dream talk,” Christman said. “What if we can pull this off?”
The former quickly was resolved, while Lane spoke with management at the Port Orchard Comfort Inn, where Key previously worked. They arranged for him and his father to receive a discount during their stay in Orlando.
“Our community really supports our students here,” Lane said.
She also coordinated with Eaton’s mother and Metaswitch, a private company based in London that manufactures telecommunications software, to set up a meeting before his speech.
“When I first met him, I was shaking,” Key said. “I was hyperventilating and sweating.”
Eaton asked the first question.
“Why did you come so far just to see me?” he said.
Key momentarily pondered the question.
“You’re the world’s greatest athlete,” he said.
Key then had private conversations with Eaton, which he described as exciting, before and after the speech. Eaton also gave Key another autographed photo with a message: “Thanks for being an inspiration to me.”
“Being that I’m friends with his mom, I know that’s a genuine sentiment,” Lane said. “I had the feeling Matt got as much out of it as Ashton.”
She said Key now has an open invitation to visit Eaton, who competes for Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, Ore., in the future.
It is a trip Key hopes to make someday. For now, Key, who had brain surgery when he was 2 days old — most of the left side of his brain never formed, according to his mother — is focused on finishing his high-school diploma and finding a job. He works as a volunteer filing papers at Harrison Medical Center and eventually will transition to a similar role at the Port Orchard Library.
Key said he enjoys being around people and hopes to work as a customer-service clerk at a local grocer — when he is not running.Contact Port Orchard Independent Staff Writer Chris Chancellor at email@example.com or (360) 876-4414.