Big Worm’s Big Give

by Robb on July 16, 2008

by Kimmy Lamb

On Wednesday, May 28th, anyone strolling past RT Longboard’s in Pacific Beach may have just thought the bar was having a good night, but those on the inside knew that this night was more special than most. On this particular evening, the family and friends of Matt “Big Worm” Joyce came together to honor his memory, as well as raise money to support his cause, BIG Worm’s CF Life Foundation.

When Worm decided to start a foundation for kids with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), he set out a plan with his uncle to make it successful. Worm had a hand in every aspect of creating a foundation that continues to improve the quality of life for CF patients during their treatment plans. The Big Give was a fund raiser in memory of Worm and his work.

Worm had a lot of friends, but the amount of people who showed up to support the Big Give was way beyond our expectations. The bar was packed, with standing room only.

It was tough to weave through the crowd, but as I did, I could overhear people sharing stories about how they met Worm or how he had touched their lives…

While live music from Arroyo, The Blonde Brothers and Alpha Channel kept the mood festive, the attendees patiently waited on the silent auction items that would raise money for Worm’s Foundation. Every kid dreams of what Christmas morning looks like, but this was over and above if you surf: hundreds of donations from surf shops, clothing companies and other local businesses, wrapped in gift baskets around the stage. Big ticket art pieces and surfboards lined the walls, which were to be live auctioned later in the night.

As the energy of the crowd slowly grew celebratory over beer specials and friendly faces, the people closest to Worm paused a little more frequently to reflect on life with him in it. Worm would have been at an event like this, but this time he was the one being celebrated. He passed just weeks earlier, but his work was already showing that his spirit remains live and well.

Matthew Joyce was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at a very young age, but was able to lead a fairly healthy life until his junior year of high school. After a case of the flu, his health began to deteriorate. His physician prescribed antibiotics; however, his lungs did not respond and it became quickly apparent that he would need a transplant. Time went by and hope was fading when a family friend stepped in to be tested as a potential donor. He was a match! After a public appeal to find a second donor proved successful, Matt received his transplant on November 2nd, 2000. The five-hour medical procedure involved the complete removal of Matt’s lungs, which were replaced with one lobe from each of the donors. The transplant was a success, but Matt’s constant maintenance needs kept him close to hospitals.

People living with CF often spend a great deal of time in the hospital for frequent “tune-ups” of IV antibiotics. Matt wanted to do something to help ease that time for kids with CF. He organized his efforts and BIG Worm’s Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was born. The foundation would provide tangible and age-appropriate gifts, such as video games, MP3 players, DVD players and various toys for little ones.

It was important to Matt to give back. Since he had been surrounded by a lot of love and support through his treatments, he wanted to share that with others. Starting the foundation gave him an outlet to do that. Knowing all that he went through during his hospital stays, he wanted to find ways to make it more bearable for others. Matt put his heart into this foundation and his friends and family intend to keep his efforts going, starting with the Big Give.

The idea for Big Worm’s Big Give came to friend Rebecca Straka, who vocalized her vision to a handful of close friends to Worm shortly after he passed. Terry Kraszewski, Heather Kraszewski, Rebecca and myself quickly realized that the event would be a huge success by contacting our collective friends who work in the surf industry. Surf shops across San Diego County jumped on the Worm train, donating silent auction items by the dozens, and soon other businesses followed suit. We received an overwhelming amount of donations–so many in fact, that there were many items that had to be fire auctioned near the end of the night.

Some of the donations came from people who knew and loved Matt, and some from people who were simply touched by his story. South Coast was one of the many companies donating to help Worm’s cause, giving a Fish surfboard for the crowd-favorite live auction.

“Big Worm” was a nickname Matt acquired while working at South Coast. He was a grom hanging with the older employees who, taking a cue from a movie, called each other “Big Worm”. He wanted to be a part of that and eventually the guys around the shop started to refer to him as “Little Worm”. Little Worm turned to “Big Worm” and finally, just “Worm”. It was a nickname that stuck with him even after his time working with the South Coast family. South Coast first met Matthew “Worm” Joyce the day after his 16th birthday.

His first day with us might have been his toughest too. As per tradition with all newbies, Matt was asked to do a bit of grunt work. He was told to get on his hands and knees to clean the perimeter of the store with the shop vacuum and hop into the dumpster to smash down the boxes. During these tasks he coughed quite a bit, which made Heather Lamb, who was managing at the time, ask him if he was a smoker. He replied no, but decided to wait a few weeks before letting management know he had Cystic Fibrosis.

It was about a year after he started working for us that he had to quit due to his health. When Rob Ard and Erich Tramonti, two of the owners of South Coast, got word Matt wasn’t doing well soon after, they decided to pay him a visit. Once there, they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse; they told him once he recovered they were going to give him a brand new South Coast board. About six months after he quit, he had his transplant. His good friend Amanda Fleming told me that while recovering he was unable to speak; however, he was able to write and more often than not he wrote notes to his dad about surfing.

All he wanted to do was surf again. He was 18 when he came back to work for South Coast. By the time he parted ways with South Coast for good he was managing our Longboard shop. He was always proud that he was a manger at 18, a fact that he mentioned proudly more than once.

Worm managed to touch many people in his life, and in doing so, left the small community of those he knew him with many wonderful memories. As the night of Wednesday, May 28th came to an end, a multitude of goodbyes and hugs were exchanged, auction prizes were picked up, and a sense of accomplishment was felt all around. With just about a month to plan, we never expected our little event to grow into something so wonderful. After all was said and done, we raised over $12,000 for the foundation.

There is a picture that was taken during the night that has been stuck in my head since I saw it. The picture is of the crowd watching The Blonde Brothers and on the television screen behind the band is a still frame of Matt. I think we made him proud. We will never be able to fully express our gratitude to those who donated. The fundraiser was held at RT Longboard’s was just the beginning, Matt’s friends and family plan to continue his efforts.

For more information about Matt and the BIG Worm’s CF Foundation visit the website: www.bigwormscff.com

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