MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He was shot on the job in Waseca more than a year ago. Now Officer Arik Matson and his wife are talking to us about that night for the first time.

Matson was just named the 2020 Police Officer of the Year by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. Saturday at the Waseca County Fairgrounds, there will be a “Matson Strong” benefit to raise money for his recovery, a recovery that is far from over.

It’s the knock on the door that law enforcement families fear. For Matson’s wife, Megan Matson, it came on Jan. 6, 2020.

“She looked at me grabbed me and said, ‘Arik’s been shot and it’s bad. We have to go,'” she said. “I had actually had nightmares about it three times prior.”

Arik Matson doesn’t remember being shot. He found out 11 days later when he came out of his coma.

“My first memory was Megan waking me up at the hospital and saying, ‘You got shot last night at work,’ and I sat up and was like, ‘What? Are you kidding me?'” Arik Matson said.

“He went into shock after being told that, so they actually had to put him back under,” said Megan Matson. “I had a gut feeling — ‘OK, he’s not dead. There is a chance that he could make it through this.'”

But it wasn’t going to be easy. Multiple surgeries and three months in the hospital were just the start.

“I had just went to work and now my life was completely different, and it was going to be along uphill journey from that point on,” Arik Matson said.

He spent seven months rehabbing in Nebraska away from his wife and two girls — this during the pandemic.

“I couldn’t even sit up at the time because my core was too weak,” said Arik Matson. “The progress was really slow, so it was frustrating.”

“Arik was equivalent to a 3-year-old child. That’s the easiest way to say it,” said Megan Matson.

But from the moment Megan Matson showed up at the hospital that first night, she realized they weren’t in it alone.

“There was at least 150 cops, DNR officers, State Patrol officers, city cops, county sheriffs,” she said. “The family from the thin blue line immediately struck me.”

The couple is now doing speaking engagements and is pushing for the Matson Strong Bill, which is proposing tougher sentencing rules for those charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement official. Megan and Arik say it would mean longer sentences and no opportunities for parole.

From store signs to jersey patches, flags and blue lights left on just for Arik, “Matson Strong” became much more than a hashtag or catchphrase. It’s a mindset and a symbol of strength.

When asked what it means to be Matson strong, both have a definitive answer.

“To not give up on each other,” she said.

“Just keep prevailing and persevering,” he said.

Saturday’s benefit in Waseca will have bingo, a silent auction and raffles. Things start at 10 a.m. and last all day.

Erin Hassanzadeh