1K4D: Matt Cavanaugh

About Matt Cavanaugh

Matt Cavanaugh, PhD, is an active duty US Army Strategist who currently serves as the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the National Kidney Donor Organization (NKDO). He is also the founding director of the Homeland Defense Institute at the US Air Force Academy, a Professor of Practice with Arizona State University, a co-founder of and senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and has twice earned the Bronze Star Medal, as well as the Combat Action Badge, for his service in Iraq.

Matt has been active in fitness and athletics his entire life, having been named the US Army Athlete of the Year in 2009. In 2022, the National Kidney Registry will sponsor his greatest challenge—1K4D—his attempt to be the first living kidney donor to finish the full 4 Deserts race series, including races covering 1,000 kilometers across Namibia, Georgia, Chile, and Antarctica. 78 individuals from around the world have completed all four events in one year, a feat called a “Grand Slam.” Cavanaugh would be the first to do it on one kidney, months post-donation, in an attempt to shatter the misperception that kidney donation imposes physical limits on donors. Matt’s runs will demonstrate his motto, it only takes one, and he’ll write weekly dispatches in training and competition throughout the year.

Donor Story: Matt donated his left kidney on September 15, 2021 to a stranger and started a donation chain. Unlike many donors who already know someone in need of a kidney, Matt simply learned how many are in need of a kidney, decided to donate, and placed a cold-call to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland to volunteer. “When my life depended on it, someone came for me,” he said, referring to his time in a 2003 military conflict. “Eighteen years later, I paid that moment forward. I was the cavalry. I saved someone’s life, and then some.”

Personal: Matt lives in Manitou Springs, Colorado, with his wife and his young daughters, Gracie and Georgie.

In Matt’s Own Words

About the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series

Widely considered one of the most prestigious footrace series in the world and the ultimate test of human endurance, the 2022 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series consists of four races:

In each race, competitors cover 250 kilometers in seven days over rough terrain with only a place in a tent and water provided. Learn more.

Matt in Action

Founding Sponsors

  • National Kidney Foundation
  • National Kidney Registry
  • National Kidney Donation Organization