• Route: Ozarks
  • Ride Year: 2023
  • Hometown: The Woodlands, TX

About: Hello! My name is Matt Winningham, and I'm studying computer science here at UT. I discovered my passion for coding and technology when I was a freshman in high school when I started creating programs for my yearly science fair projects. Since then, I've continued to explore different areas in this space. At UT, I'm a Team Lead for the Texas Spacecraft Laboratory, where I currently work with a group of students to improve our spacecraft pose recovery models using computer vision techniques. In the future, I hope to use what I've learned to develop tools in the field of medicine to make the world a better place.

When I'm not burying my head in the books, I can usually be found running around one of the many beautiful trails Austin has to offer, listening to inordinate amounts of music, or tickling the ivories somewhere on campus.

Why I Ride

I was blessed to grow up with someone who, though younger than me, has been a role model for most of my life. His name is Noah Bratsch. The Bratsch family has lived across the street from my family since we moved into our home, and they have consistently been one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve known. Noah is no exception. Whenever our families would gather with the rest of our neighbors growing up, Noah was the one who would always put smiles on the faces of everyone around him. He has an unstoppable grin and a silly sense of humor that can lighten anyone’s day and make them laugh, too.

His personality and ability to light the room up is even more astounding when you know what Noah has overcome. Born with Down Syndrome, Noah had congenital heart defects that required intense surgeries and many hours spent in the hospital during the first year or so of his life. Once his heart was in better condition, Noah had about a year of reprieve before being diagnosed with leukemia which fundamentally altered the rest of his childhood.

Instead of doing “normal” things, like going to school or playing with his friends, most of Noah’s days were filled with blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and a slew of medications with serious side effects. It seemed like every time his condition started to improve, they would inevitably and inexplicably deteriorate, sending him back to square one. In spite of all of this, on the rare occasions I was allowed to visit Noah and hang out with him, he was still his same playful self; the smile rarely left his face and his unbridled optimism continued to carry him forward. Though I was often brought to his house to cheer him up, it was often the opposite that happened: his bright presence raised my spirits. His ability to remain positive and light-hearted when all of the odds were against him and he was undoubtedly in intense pain is an example I carry with me every day. While I’ll certainly never be able to do it as well as him, Noah has taught me to try to push forward with a smile whenever life presents its challenges.

When he finally entered remission after many years of his battle with leukemia, I realized there was something else I had learned through the journey of the last several years. Not only did Noah’s spirit touch the lives of everyone who met him, but it also created an incredibly strong community that in turn supported his family as well as many others who were fighting similar battles. Through many events like Light the Night walks, cookouts, and more, a community was created around the Bratsch family that uplifted everyone involved. The wonderful and surprising thing was this: the terrible tragedy of cancer which brought us together was accompanied by a miraculous sense of hope. Noah, more than anyone else, taught me that fighting disease is not about fearing death but celebrating life.

No one should fight their battles alone. The support and hope you can offer to someone fighting that battle can make a world of difference, just as it did for Noah’s family and everyone who knew them. It is this sense of community and Noah’s unflagging cheer that I want to bring to people through Texas 4000. Seeing how much of an impact Noah has had on my life just through my connection to him, I know that Texas 4000 would allow me to have that same impact of support on many others dealing with similar struggles. By riding across the United States and Canada with Texas 4000, I would like to spread the spirit of Noah and in doing so provide hope and community to those who need it the most.