George Martin's journey started when he decided it was time to step up.
“Someone once said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’ ” said Martin, speaking of a line from President John F. Kennedy. “That spoke volumes to me. Too many times people step back and say let somebody else do it. I want to be the one to do something.”
Martin was a defensive lineman and co-captain for the 1986 New York Giants Super Bowl team. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, he watched as thousands of people he considers heroes went to Ground Zero to work to search for survivors and seek the remains of those who were killed.
“This thing happened in my own adopted backyard,” Martin said. “I was right there and saw how these individuals sacrificed themselves so unselfishly. They went in there without knowing the conditions they were facing.”
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Now, many of them are paying a price. Workers have taken ill with respiratory ailments, post traumatic shock syndrome and other maladies stemming from they work around 9/11’s toxic dust.
So, Martin has stepped up.
For the next few months, he’ll be taking one step after another, and another, and another as he walks across the country from New York to San Francisco trying in what he’s calling A Journey for 9/11.
“These people risked their health, their careers and their lives to help America at one of our bleakest hours,” Martin said. “The very least we can do is extend a helping hand.”
Martin’s journey began at the George Washington Bridge in New York on Sept. 15. So far, he’s covered around 400 miles – to the Charlottesville, Va., area.
Saturday, though, he’s making a side trip to Charlotte. He’ll be at Lowe’s Motor Speedway Saturday morning to participate in a walk around the 1.5-mile track to raise money for Speedway Children’s Charities and the NASCAR Foundation.
After spending the day here, he’ll go back to Virginia and pick back up where he left off. Martin hopes to cover about 30 miles each day as he heads west. He originally planned to reach the Golden Gate Bridge sometime just before Christmas, but now believes it may take him until mid-January to get there.
“Whenever we finish, we know this will be something to cherish,” Martin said.
Donations can be made by mail to A Journey for 9/11, c/o Valley National BankP.O. Box 707, Wayne, N.J. 07474-0707, or online at www.ajourneyfor911.info.
There are all kinds of ways to try to raise money, of course. Why did Martin decide to make such an arduous trek?
“I just believe the enormity of the problem called for something unique,” Martin said. “One thing I didn’t want to do was make the event overshadow the cause. But what has encouraged me so far is that I’ve walked 400 miles and, despite the blisters and heat exhaustion, so far every day I have been able to wake up and have a smile on my face.”
Martin said that before he started, he thought there wouldn’t be all that much to what he planned to do.
“I figured you could just kind of take a stroll across the country,” he said. “I spent three months walking at a state park near my home in northern New Jersey, but there isn’t a playbook that shows you how to do this.”
Walking just inches from traffic, for instance, is no picnic. But whenever someome stops him to make a donation it puts a little spring in his next step.
Several New York hospitals have pledged in-kind donations, promising to provide a dollar’s worth of care to match every dollar Martin raises.
Martin’s wife of 35 years, Dianne, is making the journey as the event’s planner. His four children, all adults now, will join at various points along the way.
As of Friday, the journey’s web site said that Martin has raised just over $1 million so far. The goal is $10 million.
“But I really don’t want this to be measured just in numbers,” Martin said. “I want it to be about the quality of the lives we’re able to affect.”
Walk the track
The NASCAR Foundation’s Track Walk gives fans a chance to walk around the 1.5-mile Lowe’s Motor Speedway track to raise money for the foundation and Speedway Children’s Charities. The walk starts at 10 a.m. Saturday. You can register at Gate 26 from 8 to 9 a.m. Saturday. The cost is $30. Children under 14 can walk for free with a paying adult.