P16DeWitt-AIn 1997, Matt De Witt gave up soda, an act of self-denial that was meant to help him take stock of his spiritual life and bring him closer to God – critical goals of this 40-day preparation for Easter.

In most instances, Lenten deprivations are short-lived, but in De Witt’s case, it continues to this day, and in addition to foregoing anything carbonated, the 30-year-old father of two daughters, also lives without coffee or alcoholic beverages.

A competitive U.S Elite racewalker and marathon runner, De Witt, a Racine-area substitute teacher, finds that by treating his body like a true temple of the Holy Spirit, he feels healthier without putting the aforementioned beverages into his diet.

“The only caffeine I get comes from chocolate and tea,” he said. “And I have found plenty of other drinks that are more enjoyable and healthier for me. Giving up the

Matthew De Witt

Name: Matthew De Witt

Age: 30

Parish: St. Lucy, Racine

Employment: Substitute teacher

Book recently read: “The View from Saturday,” by E.L Konigsburg

Favorite movie: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

Favorite quotation: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” by the late Jim ‘Jimmy V.’ Valvano

(Catholic Herald photo by Amy Rewolinski)

soda really helped me with my running and encouraged me to not only eat healthier, but to drink healthier.”

Most observers in America’s carbonated obsessive culture are in awe of De Witt’s determination to maintain healthy eating and drinking, but see the enormous payoffs in his athleticism.

“My running and racewalking takes up a lot of my time outside of family and work. I also enjoy watching sports, such as baseball, hockey, car racing, cycling, Australian Rules Football and much more,” he said. “I have completed five marathons, three running and two racewalking. My best time was in last year’s Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, where I ran a 2:53:17. My time was fast enough to qualify me for the Boston Marathon. I may run the Boston Marathon in 2011.”

De Witt runs distances between 5 km (3.1 miles) and marathons (26.2 miles) and racewalks distances between 3,000 meters and 20 kilometers, and is a seven time Junior and Collegiate All-American in racewalking. He competed in the 2000 U.S Olympic Team Trials, finishing in 10th place.

“I have also competed at the 2002 and 2010 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships and the 2006 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships,” he said.

While he is proud of his accomplishments, De Witt understands the importance of his Catholic faith and in sharing it with his wife, Whendi and daughters Briana, age 2, and 8-month-old Madelyn. Nowadays, he isn’t looking to give up anything, but rather to give of himself during Lent.

“I try to do a little extra, such as saying extra prayers or extra help for others. This year I am giving a little extra out of my pocket for those in need,” he said. “My faith is very important to me. I try to lead a good life so that others who see my actions and hear what I have to say will hopefully make a few changes in their own lives. I especially want to make sure my daughters see how important my faith is to me so they will live a good life.”

Originally from Kenosha, De Witt is still a member of St. Elizabeth Parish, but a recent move to Racine has the family making its parish home at St. Lucy and with it, new traditions to pass onto his children to experience the richness and rekindling of the faith this Lent.

“We say our bedtime prayers every night and we attend Mass every week,” he said. “Both girls have various Catholic books about the order of the Mass, children’s Bibles, and books on saints. We read these books often.”