After initially refusing to display his karate moves out of safety concerns for onlookers, Matthew Egan eventually loosened up Sunday and showed off some swinging kicks, jabs, and punches in the air while at Binney Park in Greenwich.
On Friday night, Egan, a 26-year-old Stamford resident born with Down syndrome, achieved karate's ultimate milestone when he received his black belt from the Stamford Tiger Schulmann dojo on Summer Street after 10 years of training.
Egan received the belt from his sensei Nicholas Demetrius, at the Summer Street dojo after a series of final tests in grappling and kickboxing.
"I'm a hero," Matthew Egan said on Sunday to his mother, Anna Egan, of his karate milestone.
Last month, Egan, who has lived in Stamford and Greenwich since he was a toddler, had necessary surgery to replace his pacemaker at Stamford Hospital, his mother said.
Due to his heart problem, which first required the pacemaker device seven years ago, Anna Egan restricted her son from no holds-barred fighting matches that could include forceful blows to her son's vulnerable chest.
"There are just certain things that he can't do and risks that I'm not willing for him to take," Egan said.
Anna Egan said that karate first became an outlet for Matthew Egan in the aftermath of a family tragedy after his father, Michael Egan, was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center at the age of 51. Michael Egan's sister and the boy's aunt, Christine Egan also perished in the attack while visiting her brother in the office of Aon Corporation that fateful day.
After moving from Greenwich to Lincroft,N.J. in 2001, Anna Egan moved back to Stamford following the attacks to be closer to old friends as well as other families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, she said. This fall, Anna and Matthew plan to move to Montreal to be closer to family.
"It was one of the first things I had him do after it because I had to get him doing more things," Anna Egan said of Matthew Egan. "It helped provide some of that missing male interaction that was important for him."
Egan's older brother, Jonathan Egan, 28, of Manhattan and a Greenwich High School graduate said he had also been concerned for his little brother's psychological welfare after the loss of their father.
Now a corporate headhunter for financial firms, Jonathan Egan said he is proud of Matthew's discipline and achievements in the martial arts.
"It definitely takes discipline and when I look at him I see he is more structured than me," Jonathan Egan said.
Demetrius has been training with Matthew Egan for the past 10 years and said he had met all the requirements to become a black belt and was one of the most dedicated and committed students he has taught.
Since 2002, Matthew Egan has come for six classes a week from Monday to Saturday, and additional workouts to hone his skills, Demetrius said.
"He trained as hard as everybody else and I wanted to do this in appreciation for him working as hard as he did," Demetrius said. "I've never had him not work hard."