The Inspirational McGivern Family

(from left) Malia, Micah and Matt McGivern of Kailua. Photo courtesy the McGivern family

The M&M Boys had quite a summer. Kailua’s Micah and Matt McGivern wrapped up their summer competition on the water with a number of titles.

Micah, 17, perhaps the tallest high school paddler you’ll ever see at over 6-feet-8-inches tall, helped the Lanikai 16’s win the OHCRA championship and finish runner-up in the state. Micah also won bronze and silver medals in the USA National Kayak Championships in Washington.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Matt, who stands 6-foot-1, helped paddle the Kailua 14’s to a first place finish at OHCRA, as well as a second straight state championship. The Kailua 14’s went undefeated along the way. Both Matt and Micah paddle in ILH kayak competition team this fall. Micah is a senior, while Matt is a sophomore, both at Maryknoll, where their parents, Jeffrey and Heidi, are teachers.

What makes their athletic accomplishments all the more remarkable is that both boys suffered from a very rare knee disease, osteochondritis dissecans (often called OCD) that knocked them off their feet for months only a few short years ago. Micah had to give up his favorite sport, and Matt spent months in a wheelchair.

“I played basketball and soccer when I was younger,” says Micah, “and basketball was my life. I started having pain in both knees in the sixth grade and (after the diagnosis) had knee surgery in the seventh grade. It was really shocking, as I had to be completely off my feet for weeks.”

“I never had an operation, but I had to be in a wheel-chair for three months when I was in the seventh grade,” Matt says. “It was so weird not being active.”

“My sister is a knee doctor, and she just cried when she heard they both had this,” says Heidi, who played collegiate basketball in her youth. (Dr. Linda Rasmussen of the Windward Orthopaedic Group is her sister.) “What are the chances that siblings would both get this in both knees? Luckily, our daughter (11-year-old Malia) has shown no signs of it.”

OCD causes pain and swelling in the knee, mostly in adolescents, and requires surgery in most cases, and at the very least, months of immobilization and rehabilitation. “Thankfully, the boys had their X-box to keep them busy,” says Heidi. “It was so hard watching them unable to go out and play.”

But there turned out to be a silver lining in all this. Because the boys couldn’t weight-bear for such a long time, they both took up swimming. Eventually, they tried paddling, both outrigger and kayak.

“I learned to love the ocean. I developed a real passion for it,” says Micah, who believes his tremendous height is an advantage for him. “It helps that I have a longer wingspan. Most of the other tall athletes play basketball or volleyball or football. I’m probably the tallest kayaker around. I feel lucky, because I probably would never have even tried kayaking or paddling if this hadn’t happened. Now I really like it.”

“I tell people you have to keep your head up high and not dwell on the negative,” Matt says. “I feel that without the wheelchair incident I would never have paddled, and I would never have had a chance to win back-to-back state titles.”

Matt’s knees are feeling so strong that he’s planning to go out for basketball this winter. And Micah says the possibility that he could play hoops again is not out of the question. Their mother says the experience has taught her a great deal. “There’s so much to learn about this disease. It’s rare, but young athletes do suffer from it,” Heidi says. “We hope this story brings awareness to it.”

The M&M Boys are proof positive that there is hope after the pain.