Hometown: Sioux Falls, SD
Current Location: Sioux Falls, SD
Current Role: Physical Therapist
Nominated By: Ben Bruster
Reason for Nomination: Matt is one of the kindest, most affirming people I know. He is a pro at meeting people where they are, making them feel deeply known, and motivating them to lead their best lives and accomplish their dreams. Matt gives his heart to others so that they can give their hearts to the world. Through his vocation, he helps some to climb mountains and others to learn to walk again. Day in and day out, Matt remains dedicated to serving others, to “Be(ing) the change [he] wants to see in the world.”
For these reasons and more, Matt exemplifies all that Rays of Light is about. Thanks Matt!
A Short Bio.
Matt Leedom was born in Thief River Falls, Minnesota but was raised exclusively in Sioux Falls, SD. He has three siblings—all sisters—and is the second oldest. “As the only boy, [he] took it upon [himself] to be solely responsible for bringing chaos and creating excitement within [his] household.” Given his energy and sense of adventure, Matt naturally fit right into the Leedom family. Leedom summer vacations often included camping, hiking, and spending time in the great outdoors, usually in northern Minnesota or the Black Hills of South Dakota. Then, at Christmastime, Matt and his family enjoyed large family gatherings.
Thanks to his upbringing, Matt came to learn and appreciate the importance of family from a young age. Matt’s mother was a nurse. “Exuding empathy and compassion,” he writes, “she taught me the importance of caring for the whole person and treating all with dignity and respect.” His father worked as a dairy plant superintendent, who also, believe it or not, was partially responsible for inventing Cookies and Cream ice cream, or so the legend has it. Matt felt close with his sisters, though admits an 8-year age gap between his youngest and oldest siblings sometimes proved challenging. Mainly, we just had varying interests, he remarks.
Matt feels truly grateful for his active, family and friend-centric upbringing. “Growing up, I was close friends with my sisters and next-door neighbors,” later remarking that he feels fortunate to maintain some of these “very close,” life-giving friendships today. In high school, Matt followed his varied interests: acting in theatre, participating in community sports, learning music, and attending various local [summer] camps.
Following high school, Matt attended the University of South Dakota (USD)—where he studied psychology, co-founded a fraternity, and worked summers as an anatomy lab technician and phlebotomist. And though Matt might not have realized it then, he was continuing a path towards becoming a physical therapist, albeit a path laid much earlier in his life. In grade school, Matt watched his grandmother become diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and subsequently lose physical functioning. He writes, “As I watched her decline in physical functioning, and how that impacted her quality of life, I became motivated to help people in similar situations.” This time afforded him empathy and insight into the lives of people living with “neurological diagnoses [and] injuries.” More than anything, however, Matt witnessing his grandmother’s battle with ALS and pursuing his studies guided him towards his calling: physical therapy, an area where he passionately felt that he could author a meaningful impact on the lives of others.
After graduating from USD, Matt went on to receive his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Creighton University. While there, he specialized in the treatment of neurological disorders and injuries and completed clinical rotations in Wyoming, Oregon, Sioux Falls (SD), and on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska.
Today, Matt practices physical therapy in Sioux Falls, SD. He also part-time adjunct teaches physical therapy courses at local colleges and universities, including at his alma mater. When not busy with work, Matt loves spending time with his family—his wife (Emily) and his two young daughters—playing, guitar, woodworking, camping, and skiing. “I am the definition of ‘Jack of all trades, but master of none,” he jokes. Never short on something to do, Matt finds joy in the simple pleasures: reading, listening to podcasts, and learning more about faith and brain science. He is a devoted father, friend, husband, healer, teacher, and learner.
Q & A: The [Not So] Serious
BB: If you could be a backup singer and dancer for any musical artist or band, historical or present, who would you choose? Why?
ML: Dave Matthews Band! I have been a long-time listener and fan. Also, I have very limited dancing capability. As a backup dancer for DMB, all that would be expected of me is head bobbing and swaying along to the long slow jams and instrument solos.
BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
ML: I would tell myself to invest in those people who help me to be a better person. When you find one of those people who challenge you, motivate you, and help you to grow into the person who you seek to be, you should hold on to them!
BB: Imagine you and your wife have been chosen to host this year’s Halloween costume party. In addition to hosting, you must also pick a theme. What theme will two you choose? What will you of dress as? And why?
ML: Woodsy! I think that a woodsy themed costume party would bring out lots of creativity. Individuals could choose to go as lumberjacks, trees, hikers, or their favorite woodland creatures. I also love nature, so this would be a fun theme to decorate for. You might even see some chainsaw carving activities or bobbing for pinecones!
BB: What do you most enjoy about being a father?
ML: Without question, my favorite part of being a father is experiencing the world through the eyes of my children. I am amazed by the way that my girls are constantly seeking out new truths, discovering the way that the world works, and using their imaginations to fill in the gaps. Their energy and excitement for adventure is contagious to me. I am humbled by my role as father, as I get to be invited into their self-discovery.
BB: What has playtime consisted of recently?
ML: This quarantine has been challenging for all, but this is especially true for children who perhaps can’t understand it. We have been making the most of it though. I built a platform swing in our basement, which provides hours of entertainment. My girls also love it when I chase them around the house or give them rides on my back, like a horse. Of course, I also never refuse a tea party, when offered.
BB: What three foods could you not live without?
ML: Pizza. Beer. Bread. I am a simple man with simple interests. I also love carbs.
BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?
ML: I am married to an amazing woman who is one of the most affirmative people that I have ever met. She also has a podcast. On nearly every episode, she talks about our marriage and life. She is always very supportive of me and my pursuits when she talks about the things we are doing as a family. When I listen to her talk, I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for her and our family. I think that if this says anything about me, it says that I am proud of the culture that we have maintained and the life we are pursuing together.
BB: What is craziest haircut you have received, or the wildest hair style you’ve attempted?
ML: I had a Brittney Spears moment in the midst of this pandemic. In a moment of stress induced frenzy, I frustratingly used my beard clipper and buzzed my own head. It was gratifying for a moment, but now I am living with the consequences until I can get a proper haircut again. I hope that day comes soon.
BB: Your Christian faith seems to an integral aspect of your life. How have you recently seen God acting in your life, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
ML: This pandemic has revealed many things to all of us. For me, I feel that I am seeing my attachments much more clearly now than I ever have before. This has been a challenging, but fruitful (hopefully) time of growth as I have learned to trust more confidently in God and leave my worldly attachments behind.
BB: Other than your alarm clock, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
ML: Coffee. Without a doubt, my favorite part of the day is the quiet of the early morning with a hot cup of coffee in my hand. I am willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure that I have coffee in the morning, including backpacking with a French press and battery-operated coffee grinder when camping!
BB: Who is your favorite author? And what is your favorite book?
ML: My favorite author is C.S. Lewis. I love his writing both for the breadth and the depth of the material. He lived a fascinating life at a fascinating time in history. As a result, his writings are filled with timeless messages of encounters with faith and human struggle. Every time that I read something of his, I find them to be deeply moving and inspirational. I also love adventure novels. The Lost Horizon by James Hilton is one of my all-time favorite books. When I long for peaceful paradise, I think of the Shangri-La that Hilton describes in this book.
BB: You have focus much of your energy on personal improvement. In what ways are you currently trying to better yourself? And how does this journey make you feel?
ML: Many years ago, I started writing goals under the categories of physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs. I find that when I have these things balanced, I tend to be more successful in my pursuits of personal growth. When any one of these categories is missing, I find myself searching for ways to fill that void. One example is that I have a terrible habit of purchasing books, but not taking time to read them. A bookshelf full of books collecting dust is a simple sign that tells me that I have an intellectual need that I am somehow neglecting. The desire is there, but I fail to move into action. I revisit my goals regularly to make sure that I am actively working on 1-2 things in each of these areas. This has proved to be an effective strategy as I work on personal improvement and maintaining balance in my life.
BB: Finish the following sentence: The world would be a greater place if everyone knew _____________ (this artist’s) music. And why?
ML: Gregory Alan Isakov. I am a big GAI fan and have been for some time. His music combines indie and folk, and is calming and melodic. As an individual, he also has passions for farming. There is something very simplistic about him and his music. The world could use a little more simplicity.
BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?
ML: I generally strive to be pretty transparent in the way that I live and project my life. The things about me which people can see through social media would probably include my passions for God, my family, nature, care of the whole person, and community life. There are a few things that people probably don’t see on social media though. They include; I am a lazy communicator, I am an extroverted introvert, I prefer texting over phone calls (probably because I am a lazy communicator), I have an addiction to coffee and carbs, I bite my fingernails, and although I don’t show it publicly, I am incredibly proud of my family, my friends, and my coworkers. All of which inspire me to be a better man every single day.
Author’s Note: I had a blast getting to know Matt more through the interview process. Matt has approved everything as written. Stay tuned for more “Rays of Light” soon.