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student athlete AND safety advocate

| Denise Olson

Mat Rieckhoff
elementary education major

When Mat Rieckhoff graduates from UW-Eau Claire he will take with him a long list of impressive accomplishments as an athlete and as a scholar. The elementary education major was captain of the wrestling team for four years, a three-time All-American Scholar Athlete, a two-time WIAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year finalist, and a two-time qualifier for NCAA DIII nationals. But the accomplishment he's most proud of has little to do with sports. As he graduates, Mat is leaving his campus a safer place for current and future students.

During Mat's freshman year, his close friend and wrestling teammate became separated from friends during a night of drinking. When his friend's body was later recovered from the Chippewa River, his family, friends — including Mat — and the Blugold community were left to deal with their grief as they searched for answers about what happened that night. As he worked through his grief, Mat decided he could best honor his friend by educating fellow Blugolds about the risks associated with excessive drinking. 

Mat became a peer educator in the Center for Alcohol Studies and Education, joining a team of students who teach classes, organize outreach events and share information in classrooms, all aimed at helping to educate UW-Eau Claire students about the risks and potential dangers associated with excessive use of alcohol. During his senior year, Mat went even further, spearheading a C.A.S.E. sponsored safety campaign called "Be Smart, Buddy Up." The campaign urges students to stay together when socializing, and to create a community of Blugolds who watch out for one another. Mat believes that simply sticking together, never leaving a party or tavern to walk home alone, might very well save lives. Impressed by this simple wristband messaging campaign, community groups committed to water safety now plan to build on the "Buddy Up" efforts, incorporating the messaging and Mat's YouTube video into the annual National Water Safety Month campaign. 

After graduation, Mat will continue his role as an educator when he goes to work as a resident youth care worker at the Rawhide Boys Ranch for at-risk teens. As a student athlete AND safety advocate, Mat Rieckhoff is making the campus a safer and healthier place for current and future students … And that's pretty powerful!