Matt Ferry has more than one hat hanging in the closet.
He is an athlete, captain of the GW men’s soccer team for the past three years.
He is a student, who earned his undergraduate degree in international business from GW last year and is working on his master’s degree in project management.
He is a traveler, who spent two years in England and two months traveling throughout Chile.
According to Ben Ferry, his older brother, Matt is above all a fighter, someone who has overcome adversity.
“He’s someone who’s pretty determined, who has really overcome a lot of adversity, especially the last couple of years,” Ben says of his brother. “He has gone right at everything that’s been thrown at him. A lot of people couldn’t handle the cards he’s been dealt.”
The Soccer Player
Matt strolled onto the soccer field his freshman year and played in 16 games in 1993, logging a goal and three assists. He has been a key member of the GW men’s team ever since.
Matt amassed 10 goals and nine assists in his first three seasons with the Colonials, but says he does not see himself as a goal-maker.
“I go for more of a solid performance,” he says. “I don’t have to go out there and score goals to have a good performance. My brother is the play-maker. He’s leading the nation in assists.”
It’s true – Ben is the scorer. Playing alongside his brother, he set a GW record for assists last season, then broke his own record this year.
Ben followed his brother to GW in 1994.
“I always kind of knew I would come to GW so I could play with Matt,” Ben says. “I wanted to stay in the area where I grew up. We were never able to play together in high school. We’re close. I’m glad I got to play with him.”
“It’s the greatest thing,” Matt says of playing with his brother. “We’ve been playing together since we were little kids, and we compliment each other well.”
Soccer has always been a major part of Matt’s life. He has played at different levels and in different countries. He has been a member of several junior championship teams. But his ultimate goal is to play professionally, possibly in the two-year-old Major League Soccer.
“That’s what my overall aim is, but the odds are pretty slim and I’ve got to be realistic,” he says. “I think last year the MLS drafted 30 college players and out of that, only three got contracts. I’ll probably have to work my way up.”
Matt’s career at GW is winding down. Rheumatoid arthritis kept him out of the entire1994 season. The NCAA allows only four precious years of college athletic eligibility. However, Matt was granted a medical “redshirt,” which allowed him to play an extra year after graduation.
Matt is down to his final two games as a Colonial.
“I always promised myself GW wouldn’t be the last standard I would play at,” he says. “It’s just another stepping stone, so (my final game) won’t be that emotional.”
Matt’s days are filled with activity. In addition to soccer practice and games, he works 10 hours a week at the GW Medical Center. And he spends a chunk of his time studying, pursuing his master’s degree.
Not many graduate students play NCAA Division I sports, but Matt’s arthritis gave him an extra year of cramming soccer, studying and work into his short days.
“I feel like I can’t catch my breath,” he says. “As an undergrad, it seemed like I had so much time. Now, I have so little time. It seems like I’m cutting things too close.”
During the soccer season, road trips devour some of Ferry’s weekends. He scrambles to find time for studying, even as he travels to New England or Ohio with the soccer team for road games.
And distractions continue to arise. The Colonials are suffering through a disappointing season. As the losses mount, so does the frustration.
“It’s been the hardest,” Ben says. “When you’re losing everything always seems harder. You don’t feel motivated to do anything.”
Matt, a Bethesda native, says the decision to attend a local school was not a difficult one.
“My dad got his masters here and I had known the coach for five years before I came,” he says. “They also offered me the most money for a scholarship. I wanted to come back close to where I grew up after having been in England for two years.”
After graduating from Walt Whitman High School, Matt did not head straight off to college. He was not ready at that time, he says. Instead, Matt crossed the Atlantic to live in England for nearly two years, beginning in September of 1991.
“I took an opportunity to go study in another culture with different customs,” he says. “It is the same language over there, but it’s a different culture.”
Matt lived with friends in England, working and, of course, playing soccer.
“I made a deal with my parents that I would go, if I promised to go to college when I got back,” Matt says.
Matt’s traveling days did not end when he came to GW. During Christmas break of his freshman year, the soccer team traveled to Chile. Matt was intrigued by the country. The Colonials’ goalkeeper coach at the time was Chilean, and arranged for Matt and a friend to return to Chile the following summer.
“We went down there the summer before sophomore year and played with a team for two months. It was great,” Matt says.
But when Matt returned to the States, his health deteriorated. At first the doctors thought that something his system encountered in Latin America had triggered diabetes.
Then came the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
“In the beginning no one knew what was wrong with me. Everyone had a different diagnosis,” Matt now recalls. “It was a shock. Couple that with the fact that I couldn’t run – it was just a nightmare.”
Matt’s life changed quickly. Soccer was out of the question – even small, daily activities became a challenge.
“In the morning I’d get up and have to crawl into the bathroom to get into the shower,” he says. “It was tough.”
When Matt was finally diagnosed with arthritis, he was told he would not be able to run for seven months.
“It changed the way I lived my life,” he remembers. “The fact that I might never play again was kind of a second consideration. At that time, I couldn’t even run. But I never thought that I wasn’t going to play again, even though people told me it was possible.”
Ferry missed the entire 1994 season, but slowly healed and returned to the soccer field the following season. A year out of the game, Matt says, made him appreciate it even more.
“At that time, I cherished every chance to play. This was three years ago,” Matt says. “Now, I don’t think about it like that. I don’t think about it every day.”
After a year without soccer, Matt says he came back with new intensity. Some argue that a devastating injury should put sports in perspective and force the athlete to recognize that a sport is only a game. But these people, Matt says, do not understand the experience of living without an activity they love. Matt knows – he lived without soccer.
“People say all the time that you should put it in perspective,” he says. “But there aren’t that many people who have actually had something one day and not had it the next. I can honestly say that I counted down the days until I could play again.”