During his seven years as an athletic trainer at Elmhurst College, Matt Passalaqua took care of hundreds of student-athletes. When they got injured, he worked persistently with them toward recovery. When they weren’t sure they were ready to play again, he shored up their confidence and counseled them honestly. He made sure they performed at their best.
Passalaqua died on Saturday, January 11, of complications from a brief battle with leukemia. He was 31.
“Matt was dedicated to his work with colleagues and the countless number of student-athletes he oversaw,” said Paul Krohn, director of athletics for the College. “He was an instrumental partner to the success of the athletic department operation. His professional skill set was exemplary, and he demonstrated caring and highly valued work among his peers and the athletes he worked with. Matt will be deeply missed, and the entire department extends its deepest sympathy to his family.”
Before coming to Elmhurst, Passalaqua worked at almost every level of sports, from middle school summer camps to professional sports, as an assistant trainer for the Chicago Rush Arena Football team. He earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in athletic training from Northern Illinois University in 2005. He received a master’s degree in human movement from A.T. Still University in 2009.
Passalaqua joined the Elmhurst College athletics staff as a part-time trainer during the 2006-2007 season, and became a full-time athletic trainer the following year. He tended to Elmhurst student-athletes in every sport, and worked closely with the volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s basketball and softball teams.
Katie Rueffer, a senior volleyball player, recalls how Passalaqua came immediately to her aid after she sprained her ankle badly during the second-to-last game of the season.
“He worked with me starting that night and into the morning of the last game—ultrasound treatments, massaging, icing. He was doing everything he possibly could so that I could play in the last game.”
She didn’t think she’d be able to play that day but with his help, she did.
“He knew how much we wanted to play and how passionate we are,” she said. “He understood our side, but also was upfront about whether playing could injure you more.”
One reason why he did his job so well had little to do with physical therapy or rehab.
“He got to know each of us at our own level. He wanted to know about you and wanted to have that relationship with every athlete,” Rueffer said. “He focused on injured athletes, but any athlete could go into the office and talk with him about everything—classes, life, friends—you could trust him with anything, and he always had great advice.”
Volleyball coach Julie Hall said the team has always thought of itself as a family, and “Matt was an integral part of that tight-knit group.
“He was so much more than an athletic trainer,” she said. “He was our confidante, our ‘Mr. Fix It’, our chauffeur, our traveling buddy, our caterer, but most of all, our friend. Our memories are filled with wonderful moments and lots of laughter. I can’t imagine another season without him along the sidelines. We will miss him more than words can say.”
Visitation will be held from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 16, at Humes Funeral Home, 320 West Lake Street, Addison. A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, January 17, at the funeral home.