Published October 06, 2013
At the unlikely intersection of collegiate athletics, military affairs and community altruism, you’ll find Matt Zajac.
KVIA 7 reports the Army veteran, who lost both legs in Iraq in 2007, at first seemed to win a $2,000 prize after his name was drawn from a lottery during last week’s New Mexico State University football game against San Diego State.
New Mexico State University reportedly holds the drawings during home games as part of a “fan incentive program” to encourage attendance by students.
The 26-year-old Zajac is currently studying mechanical engineering at the institution.
However, the station reports school officials deemed Zajac ineligible for the prize because he was not in attendance at the game.
“Honestly, there is no way I would’ve been able to make it to the game anyway. I was taking care of my grandmother, who is 87,” he reportedly said.
“She requires a bit of care and there’s always stuff to do around the house, and I got to make sure she gets her medicine and that I get it to her on time and you know, just take care of everything.”
The school remained firm on not making an exception for the double-amputee, who was injured when his Humvee exploded.
“We are delighted this program gave us an opportunity to learn more about one of our students,” NMSU Deputy Athletics Director David McCollum told ABCNews.com.
“Matthew Zajac seems like a wonderful individual. We are considering ways to recognize him, and his service to our country, in the future.”
But that’s when supporters of New Mexico State University’s bitter rival, the University of New Mexico, stepped in.
Mark Chavez, who runs a UNM booster website called TheLoboLair.com, saw a picture of Zajac in a local newspaper and started a drive to raise $2,000 to replace the money the Army veteran would have won had he gone to his school’s game.
"They started at 8 a.m. and by 3:50 in the afternoon, we had $2,000. I think it really speaks volumes to the community we have," Chavez told KVIA 7.
"When you strip all that stuff down, in the end, what he did for our country is much bigger than school colors or if he roots for the Aggies and we root for the Lobos. It's much bigger than that."
In response, Zajac told the station he was honored by the donation – but that he would give half the money to the Fisher House Foundation, a group that supports military families for which he once volunteered.
As for New Mexico State and the University of New Mexico – the two played Saturday and UNM won 66-17.