View from Above: Lawyering, Climbing Favor the Prepared

Even in attorney attire, Steve Matz looks like a man who could lift himself up by his bootstraps, and so he has, both literally and figuratively, with 30 pounds strapped to his back.

Not only a highly successful personal injury attorney and co-founder and senior partner of his own law firmMatz and Rubin in Farmington Hillshe also is a mountain climber who has scaled some of the worlds most famous peaks.

Its a good practice for law, Matz said of mountain climbing. You have to be prepared. The difference is you are not going to get killed in a trial. You make errors while climbing, and you may not come back.

Matz said he became interested in climbing after he subscribed to an outdoors magazine that his daughter was selling for a high school fund-raiser. In the magazine, he read about climbing Mount Rainier near Seattle and was intrigued.

Ive always been a skier, he said, and thought it would be neat to learn to climb.

He flew out to Washington, took some training, climbed Mount Rainier and told his wife, Sandra Ann, that he would never do it again.

It was the hardest thing Ive ever done, he said. I swore I would never do it again.

Ninety days after he swore off climbing, Matz found himself at 14,636 feet on La Malinche, a dormant volcano in central Mexico.

Since then, Matz has gone on a score of climbing expeditions, not counting training and acclimation climbs. His climbing resum includes Mount Rainier, The Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, Mount Ararat, several climbs in Mexico and South America, and a handful of ascents in Switzerland and France.

I love climbing the Alps, he said.

Matzs closest call came while climbing The Matterhorn in Switzerland. An unseen storm was moving in from the other side of the mountain. When Matz and his fellow climbers and guides reached the peak, the storm hit.

It was a fierce electrical storm with sleet. Matz felt the hair standing on the back of his neck and arms. The static charge in the air made metal hum.

Theres a common saying among climbers, Matz said. You havent lived until you hear your ice ax sing.

We were pretty sure we were going to die, Matz recalled. We just didnt know whether it would be from falling or by lightning. I had four hours to contemplate dying. I didnt regret anything I did in my life.

One climber did not make it.

Matzs next climb is scheduled for August on Tibets Cho Oyu, the worlds sixth highest mountain, not far from Mount Everest. However, due to the political unrest with China, Matz thinks the trip may be postponed.

Matzs highest climb to date was on Mount Everests North Col (a col is the saddle between mountain peaks). He reached 23,360 feet and has a photo with his wrist altimeter to prove it.

Matz said he does not fear heights or anything else.

I really dont have fear over anything that I have control over, he said. It is the things I dont that I am afraid of.

Matz works out six days a weektwo days with a trainerworking on upper body strength, aerobics and balance-core exercises, such as lifting 30 pounds while standing on a medicine ball, and pull-ups with a 30-pound backpack.

If you cant do that in the gym, he said, you cant do that on a mountain.

Matz is also a sea kayaker, which he considers his vacation activity. He combined a climb in Peru with a 125-mile white-water kayaking trip from the border with Argentina to the Pacific Ocean. He made a similar river trek in Chile. He has also sea-kayaked in Belize and around the island of Crete in the Mediterranean.

I get to do a lot of exotic things, Matz said, who is also a certified scuba diver and a conga player in a 60s band. Ive drummed all my life.

He said a friend has suggested they do a dog sled trek to the North Pole.

Were going to do it, Matz said, and no one doubts him.

While he has taken his kidsJared, Daniel, and Rachelclimbing, it is not something he wants them to do regularly.

Climbing is not something any parent wants their child to do, he said. A parent does not want a child to be a climber.

Climbing is also something most wives dont want their husbands to do either.

She is a very understanding wife, Matz said of his spouse. She doesnt like it. She would prefer I stopped.

And yet with all his mountain climbing, kayaking and other adventures, Matz has not missed a school play, birthday or other family event, and he has even coached for his kids soccer and baseball teams.

Mountain climbing revolves around family, he said, not the other way around.

Matz has also managed to juggle an extremely successful law career around family and adventuring.

Among some 32 personal injury cases over the years, Matz has collected seven settlements of $1 million or more. The largest settlement was $3.45 million.

Defense lawyers and judges have always been very accommodating, he said. Ive never had to cancel a trip due to court scheduling.

Matz is a member of the American and Michigan Trial Lawyers Associations and serves on the latters Attorney Discipline Board and is licensed in Michigan, Colorado, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

The key to success for both lawyering and climbing is preparation, Matz said.

You always wonder if you have done enough, he said. But at the end of the day, you have to try the case, you have to take that first step of a climb.

By John Minnis

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