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Local resident works to inspire others


By Melissa Robinson
Contributing Editor 

  Henry County resident Harlon Matthews is a busy man. In addition to working as a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist with the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department, recently partnering with Henry County schools to coach therapeutic sports, he is also founder and captain of the Henry Havoc Tennis team, a certified clinician who travels throughout the country training tennis instructors and is the organizer of an award-winning tennis tournament held in McDonough every Spring. He has now taken on the role of motivational speaker traveling throughout the metro Atlanta area speaking to schools and church groups and practically anyone else who wants to hear the message he has to deliver.

Harlon Matthews hopes to inspire others with his motivational program in overcoming any obstacle.     Special photo

  Constantly on the go, there is one slight difference between Matthews and many others who live such a busy lifestyle—that wheelchair. When he was just fifteen years old, Matthews caught a cold virus that was going around his Riverdale high school, but in a rare twist, the virus went to his spine, causing paralysis from his waist down. After spending several months at Shepard’s Place, he eventually regained the use of his legs, although his mobility was never the same. That was in 1982, and he limped through life, literally, pushing his body to the limits, working physical, labor-intensive jobs, until 2000 when his body gave out. The experience changed his life.

  “I just wore myself out and things changed drastically,” said Matthews.

  “When I was in school, I was an athlete. I played football, basketball and was always moving. When my circumstances changed, I had to change with them by accepting it, but believe me, I had my dark days,” said Matthews.

  He said he went through a period of “why me?” and it wasn’t until he found handicapped sports that he was able to come to peace with that question. It was through sports and his faith that he was able to come to terms with his disability and forge ahead with the life he wanted instead of drowning in self-pity.

  Although Matthews has to rely on a wheelchair to take him where he needs to go, he’s not one to sit quietly on the sidelines. Now 46, he has adopted a philosophy in life of self-empowerment and this philosophy has allowed him to be a victor, not a victim and he feels certain that his message can be applied to nearly anyone’s situation or challenges.

  Not one to use his physical disability as an excuse, he uses it to prove that you can accomplish whatever you want with enough heart and persistence. It is through his own struggles and triumphs that Matthews felt compelled to start 4ward Momentum, a motivational speaking program that he designed to inspire and encourage people of all ages, no matter what their circumstances or obstacles.

  Starting 4ward Momentum this year, he has been speaking as part of a program put on by Connecting Henry. A force to be reckoned with, Matthews is an outspoken advocate for making the most of your life and not letting physical disabilities or any other obstacles keep you from living life to the fullest. In his motivational speaking, he focuses on certain tenets including overcoming fear, how to move past plateaus, finding your voice and taking ownership of actions.

  Starting in the New Year, he has agreed to partner with Communities in Schools in speaking with middle school students. Forgoing his usual fee, he’s speaking to the students for free, realizing a need for that particular age group.

  After a recent speaking engagement at a middle school in Gwinnett County, Matthews said he received many handwritten letters from the children he spoke with and it was a real wake up call.

  “Reading their letters, it amazed me how many of these kids have something going on that they needed to talk about or figure out. Middle school is such a challenging time,” he said.

  Matthews is available to speak at schools, companies, and churches to bring his message of empowerment and overcoming obstacles, and said he customizes his message to fit with whomever he is speaking.

  “What I want people to know is that in life there are no accidents. Things happen to everybody but it’s what you do with it and how you use that to serve others, that counts,” he said.

  To book Matthews for a speaking engagement, contact him at or visit 4wardmomentum on Facebook.



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