Feb. 25, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER It could be considered happenstance that Rice junior swimmer Erin Mattson opted to sponsor an El Salvadorian child through an organization called Compassion International, for if one word best describes her perspective when relating to others it's compassion.
Mattson decided to sponsor a child for a unique reason: she wanted to express sincere gratitude to her parents for their influence in her life by supporting someone else. That made for an interesting discussion at Christmas when Mattson revealed to her parents the motivation behind her sacrifice, and offered a glimpse of her longstanding core convictions.
"I feel like I've been like that my whole life," Mattson said. "I probably started with that because of my parents and how I was raised. I definitely owe a lot to them, but I've definitely matured and changed for the better for coming to Rice. I've learned a lot. I definitely know myself a lot better from what I've been through in four years here."
Even through tribulations Mattson has continued to give of herself. After winning the Conference USA 200-yard butterfly as a freshman, Mattson missed her entire sophomore season due to a painful right shoulder injury. Mattson did not undergo surgery, but was instead subjected to intense rehabilitation that minimized the pain but did not eliminate it.
The time away from swimming was mentally excruciating, but it didn't deter Mattson from her unrelenting commitment to animals. Sparked by her desire to work in that field, Mattson volunteered at the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition completing physically taxing duties of every sort. She cleaned and fit cages, fed, cared for and rehabilitated animals of all species. It was a labor of love, and one that impressed upon Mattson the viability of attending graduate school for marine mammal services to specialize in marine mammal rehabilitation.
"Animals and nature in general get overlooked, so I really wanted to go into wildlife," Mattson said. "It really means a lot to me. They don't have a voice in anything.
"I really enjoyed doing it, and when I realized that I really enjoyed cleaning out cat boxes I guessed that this was something for me."
Mattson's opting for an unconventional path came during her redshirt season. There were moments of intense personal reflection and extensive evaluation on a future away from swimming. As a dual citizen of Switzerland, Mattson plans to pursue her Olympic dreams in the sport, but she has one eye firmly focused on what lies beyond the pool.
So while she was forcibly removed from swimming Mattson developed resolve. When she returned to the pool and tasted success again she was gratified, but her greatest strides came in developing a commitment to preserving the environment and protecting the creatures that inhabit it.
"It really motivates me to get out there (and spread the word). It actually just makes me want to finish school," Mattson said. "It feels really urgent for me. It (this mission) seems really pertinent now.
"Every time I see squirrels on campus it's like I'm going to school for them and to help wildlife. It's a really important issue for me even though it's not as big of an issue as it should be in today's society."
By showcasing compassion for creatures both great and small, Erin Mattson has displayed the attributes of one of Tomorrow's Leaders.