Idaho Falls teen becomes world champion spartan racer years after battling brain tumor - East Idaho News
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Idaho Falls teen becomes world champion spartan racer years after battling brain tumor

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Matthew Hales, 15, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 9. In 2018, he was a top competitor in a kids spartan race world championship. | Courtesy Jason Hales

IDAHO FALLS — Brain surgery can be a debilitating procedure but for 15-year-old Matthew Hales, it’s helping him accomplish things that many never get close to achieving.

His story is the subject of a new book written by his dad, Jason Hales, who describes his son’s journey as inspiring and miraculous.

“There are inspiring stories out there. Miracles still happen and there is always hope,” Jason tells

The story begins when Matthew was 9 years old. Jason says his son would frequently experience random, painful headaches. They became really concerned when he randomly started to throw up at school.

“This kind of stuff went on for about six months,” Jason says.

The final warning sign occurred in March of 2014 when Matthew went cross-eyed. Doctors were initially clueless and it took several visits before the Hales learned the shocking news: Matthew had a brain tumor.

“I was very scared and thought, I haven’t had enough time with him. Nine years isn’t enough and I was worried I might lose him,” Matthew’s mom, Jen Hales, told ABC4 in June.

Doctors determined Matthew would need surgery and they scheduled an appointment at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

The day of the surgery arrived and the entire procedure lasted about three hours, Jason says.

“It took a little while for him to fully come out of it. He did have a seizure shortly after surgery, which is pretty normal for brain surgery,” says Jason.

Jason says there was a lot of bleeding in the brain and some initial swelling. The location of the tumor is what had caused Matthew to be cross-eyed, Jason says, which was right above the optic nerve at the top of his head in the basal ganglia. It would take time to learn whether the surgery was successful and how aggressive the tumor had been.

Matthew’s eyes were back to normal immediately following surgery and he recovered quickly. Within a week, he resumed his normal activities, Jason says.

During several follow-up visits over the next year, doctors determined the tumor was gone and Matthew has been fine ever since.

“There haven’t been any lingering side effects,” Jason says. “He is 100% normal.”

Life after surgery

In the years since the surgery, Matthew has participated in several spartan races – a series of obstacle courses of varying lengths and difficulties. He placed in the top 3 in a recent competition in Utah and finished 15th overall in the world championship in Las Vegas two years ago.

The marketing team at Primary Children’s Hospital is now highlighting Matthew’s story in a series of ads.

The Idaho Falls teenager is working with the Idaho Falls Grit League to train for next year’s race.

Though Jen and Jason are grateful their son is fully recovered, the years since the surgery have been emotionally challenging.

“I have two cousins who died of brain tumors when they were little,” Jason says in the ad.

About two years ago, Jason says he and Jen were sitting in church and heard someone talk about a child with a condition similar to Matthew’s who had died. Jason remembers feeling survivor’s guilt over this experience.

After talking to his wife, he felt inspired to share Matthew’s story. He launched a book project on Kickstarter about 18 months ago. The story was recently published as a novel on Amazon called “Pilo,” which is an abbreviated name for pilomyxoid astrocytoma, the type of tumor Matthew had.

“Matthew named his tumor ‘Satan.’ I didn’t think naming the book ‘Satan’ would resonate with people, so I said that he named it Pilo,” Jason says.

The story is told from Matthew’s perspective and some of the elements have been fictionalized for plot development and story flow, but Jason says 95% of the content is what really happened.

Jason says he hopes people will be inspired by Matthew’s story.

“It’s incredible to see his journey from one extreme to another,” he says. “It’s miraculous.”

To learn more about the book, click here.

jen and matt
Courtesy photo