Matthew Corkum is an inspiration to most everyone he meets. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, he has exemplified courage, focus, and stamina throughout his life. Matt excels in all he does, continually showing that disabilities are not all that disabling when you set your mind to achieving your goals.
While an exact number is hard to determine, over 60 thousand of us Canadians live with it. When I was 18 months old, doctors diagnosed me with spastic cerebral palsy; the most common form of cerebral palsy. While degrees of severity vary, the muscles of people with spastic cerebral palsy feel stiff and our movements are often stiff and jerky.
Doctors weren’t sure if I would ever drive a bike, a car or if there could be a mental component to my disability in addition to the obvious physical ones. Before I was 5 years of age, I attended 93 physiotherapy sessions to learn how to do things such as climbing stairs.
In primary school, I had trouble printing and drawing, so I started using a computer that was donated by a few local charities. Teaching assistants helped scribe for tests and exams while Mom spent countless hours helping me to write assignments at home. Fortunately, I did not find schoolwork difficult and went through school at the top of my class.
The bad news is, it was outside the classroom where I got bullied and made fun of, even physically abused because I walked and talked differently. Not many friends would ask me to do things outside of school. Yes, I felt excluded.
My fun was outside of school on the family farm with Gampie and other family members. It was on the farm I got the responsibility and independence I thought I deserved! I was 10 years old when I started driving the farm tractor. I spent countless hours in the apple orchard or garden with his Gampie discussing all aspects of life and the world. But most of all I was fascinated by our discussion about the weather. To this day I look up to Gampie for advice and inspiration.
From 5 years of age to 20, instead of sports for a hobby, I grew giant pumpkins and squash. My personal best was an 844-pound squash which took 1st place in the Nova Scotia provincial contest.
Junior high and high school caused no problems academically, but classmates still made fun of me, although less than in elementary school. These students seemed friendly in school but didn’t invite me to do much outside of school. I felt excluded.
In grade 12, I was chosen as the class valediction by a committee and gave a speech at graduation. It was a highlight accomplishment. After high school, I chose to go to Acadia University to study Physics. It was a big change as I have never been away from home for long. The university hired a senior student to be my scribe while I did some of my work on my laptop. As technology continued to advance, I found a computer program to do much of the math and science assignments. This improved my independence because I was no longer as dependent on the student scribe.
Socially, university students were more inclusive and rarely was I made fun of by them. Even more, they invited me him into their groups to socialize. Finally, I felt included!
At the end of my degree at Acadia, I was again chosen, class valedictorian. I chose to continue my education and did a master’s at Dalhousie University studying atmospheric science and oceanography. Socially and academically I went through my master’s degree with no trouble making many new friends along the way. Again, I felt included.
After 2 years at Dalhousie, I finished my master’s degree and moved to Toronto to do my Ph.D. at York University in atmospheric science, studying wind energy. During my time in Toronto, I presented at conferences around the world on wind energy and atmospheric science. What an exciting time! I also spent time doing research at Toronto Hydro’s office. I was pleased when I received requests and started giving talks to create awareness of people with disabilities.
In my final year of completing my Ph.D., I was contacted by a company in Calgary looking for a meteorologist. In 2013 I moved to Calgary to work for Dynasty Power. While some job tasks take me longer to complete, I am now a senior meteorologist with two other meteorologists under me.
Since moving to Calgary, I have taken my love for biking to new levels; solidly hitting 2000 km every summer and 4000 km one summer. I’ve learned to embrace mountain life in winter with my fat bike; traveling around to different mountain resorts all winter.
Another hobby I enjoy is traveling solo to different parts of the world. From seldom going far from the farm I have traveled to 11 countries. Each has offered the sight of interest and the opportunity to make new friends. As I travel I always include a message as an advocate for those with disabilities. I know how to include myself and others in my travels, my friendships, and my talks.
Contact me to inspire corporate employees or your kindergarten class about inclusiveness and seeing the ability in disability.
Education and Committees
Bachelor of Science with Honors in Physics
• graduated from Acadia University in 2006. My honors research was focused on computer modelling of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. I was class Valedictorian.
Masters of Science in Oceanography
• graduated from Dalhousie University in 2008. My research was focused on micro-scale wind forecasting over Lunenburg Bay.
Doctor of Philosophy
• graduated from York University in June 2014 (Defending my thesis in September 2013) with a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science. My Ph.D. research was focused on offshore wind shore assessment.
Advisory Committee on Accessibility: Calgary City Council
• Advise city council on issues surrounding accessibility such as transit, recreation facilities, single use plastics ban, sidewalk patios and many more.
Questions? Comments? Interested in booking Matt to speak for your organization, classroom or event? Send your message today and Matt will get back to you soon.