By Debbie Aragon, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) – The Air Force recently named its male and female 2019 athletes of the year. They are a world-class handball player and a top equestrian.
The Air Force’s Female Athlete of the Year is Maj. Andrea D. Matesick.
Matesick, the chief of safety and a T-38C instructor weapons system officer at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, is also one of the nation’s top equestrian show-jumping competitors.
“This is such a tremendous honor and a big deal for me. Just for show jumping and the equestrian sport to be recognized is huge,” Matesick said on winning the service-level award.
Her sport has deep roots in military heritage, she added, “and to be a small part of it is amazing.”
Matesick opened her 2019 season with a second-place finish at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Holiday Circuit Finale in Florida and went on to win the USEF International Brownland Farm Spring II International Horse Show Jumper Division, against a field of 16 competitors.
Her season highlights also included winning the USEF Gulf Coast Spring Classic I and II in Mississippi against a field of 34, the USEF National Kentucky Spring Classic AA Jumpers, and the National Summer in the Rockies V Modified Amateur Owner Speed Jumper Round in Colorado.
She ended her season with a win at the USEF National Equestrian Events Tyron Fall IV 1.10m Jumper in North Carolina against a field of 28.
Matesick attributes her success to perseverance, endless amounts of hard work and a strong support system from her husband, coach/trainer and the “fantastically talented and athletic horses.”
She also acknowledged her unit leadership for allowing her to compete and train.
As an athlete, Matesick said her passion for the sport and a genuine love for horses pushes her to excel.
As an Airman, “it’s the commitment I made to the Air Force and getting to work alongside some of the greatest women and men I’ve ever met. Working with people who are dedicated and have the attention to detail I could only dream of having, gives me a sense of deeper purpose.”
Resiliency is often the key to Matesick’s success, no matter the uniform she’s wearing.
“To me, the key to being resilient in life, sports or in the Air Force is knowing that failure and disappointments happen,” Matesick said. “It’s about making the conscious decision to learn from those failures and do better next time. It’s okay to momentarily ‘lick your wounds’ when you get knocked down, but you better pick yourself up quickly and get back at it.”
When not competing, Matesick serves during her off-duty time as a children’s riding instructor and donates several hours a week at a local therapeutic riding center.
The Air Force’s Male Athlete of the Year is Capt. Andrew L. Donlin.
Donlin, an acquisition program manager, is currently a member of the Air Force Services Center’s World Class Athlete Program training for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Due to the Covid-19pandemic, the Olympic Games were postponed for the first time in history. The opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 games is now July 23, 2021.
Donlin is one of the nation’s top-ranked USA Team Handball players and a member of the 26-member USA Men’s National Team premier player pool.
“This award is a huge honor especially knowing how many other accomplished athletes we have in our Air Force,” Donlin said. “While this is an individual award, I see this as a team award because none of the opportunities I’ve had in my sport would have been possible without the amazing support I receive from the WCAP leadership team, my coaches, teammates, family and friends who have supported me every step of the way.
“While I’ve been really privileged to have all of these awesome experiences around the world, it has come at a cost of a few injuries and missing a lot of important events back home,” Donlin said. “I’m grateful for all of the support through all of those challenges, especially when I’ve usually been far away. I think that’s something that a lot of Airmen, not just athletes, can relate to as well.”
The handball player also attributes a part of winning the award to being at the right place at the right time.
“So many unique doors have opened in my handball career over the past few years, specifically this past year,” Donlin said. “Many that I could not have predicted or planned. I’m very grateful for the coaches who took a chance on me and the teammates who have always had my back.”
Donlin was the first of 16 players selected from the expanded 40-member player pool to represent the U.S. at the 2019 Pan American Games, where the U.S. achieved its best finish in 12 years, finishing in 6th place while beating archrival Cuba for the first time with a final score of 26-25.
He was the top USA scorer and led the U.S. team to its first-ever gold medal at the North American and Caribbean Beach Handball Championship, qualifying the U.S. team for the World Championships. He was 10th of 120 scorers at the World Beach Championship in Qatar. He is the first American to play in the European Handball Federation Cup and in the top Spanish elite professional league.
The captain said he feels fortunate to be part of two of the greatest teams in the world – the Air Force and Team USA.
“I’ve always loved being a part of a team and I think there’s something really special about working hard every day alongside your teammates to achieve a common goal, whether that’s a handball game or a specific Air Force mission.”
He is also an exemplary student-athlete, maintaining a 3.53 GPA and putting in more than 15 hours a week toward his master’s degree program.