The crowd at a New Mexico State University game was dumbfounded Saturday as the winner of a $2,000 prize was announced, but never came forward to collect his winnings.
Instead, mechanical engineering student Matthew Zajac, who was caring for his 87-year-old grandmother after the recent death of his father, will not receive the prize because he was not present during the game, he told ABC affiliate KVIA.
“Honestly, there is no way I would’ve been able to make it to the game anyway. I was taking care of my grandmother, who is 87,” he said. “She requires a bit of care and there’s always stuff to do around the house, and I got to make sure she gets her medicine and that I get it to her on time and you know, just take care of everything.”
The prize was given as part of the “fan incentive program,” designed to promote student attendance at games. Zajac, 26, first heard news of the win from a co-worker who texted him to let him know his name had been drawn for the grand prize, he said.
And although he said caring for his grandmother is a main priority, it is a little more difficult for Zajac, who lost both of his legs in May 2007 after his Humvee exploded while he was serving in Iraq, he said.
“I lost my right leg above the knee, and my left leg below the knee on May 3, 2007, in Baghdad,” he said. “I do a little bit of walking, and I can usually muscle through it though.”
NMSU Deputy Athletics Director David McCollum would not comment personally, but issued a statement to ABCNews.com, saying the fan incentive programs are common in collegiate athletics and will continue to be offered to students as planned.
McCollum confirmed to ABCNews.com that Zajac will not be eligible to collect the prize because of the rule that he must attend the game.
“We are delighted this program gave us an opportunity to learn more about one of our students,” McCollum said. “Matthew Zajac seems like a wonderful individual. We are considering ways to recognize him, and his service to our country, in the future.”
Despite being unable to receive the prize, Zajac, who has only attended a handful of games in his academic career, said he is not looking for sympathy and is not desperate for the money.
“It would’ve been nice to have the money, that’s for sure, but I’m sure there are people that need it more than I do,” he said.