By Mickey Winfield: Freedom New Mexico
George Martin was a Giant on the field, and he’s also a giant off the field.
Martin is walking across the country, more than 3,500 miles in total, to benefit the rescue and recovery workers from the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
He passed his journey’s 2,000-mile mark near Portales on Thursday and took time to talk to Portales High School students.
Martin played defensive end for the New York Giants for 14 seasons, from 1975 to 1988. He was a team co-captain on the Giants team that won Super Bowl XXI against Denver. In that game, Martin scored the fourth safety in Super Bowl history, sacking John Elway in the end zone.
When Portales city learned of Martin’s journey, they jumped at the chance to welcome him and tell his story at a high school assembly.
“We thought that was a really great concept,” Portales community affairs coordinator Nicole Wilkening said. “We thought it was a wonderful message when we discovered what his speech entailed.”
Martin talked about the message he brings school-aged children across the country.
“This is their community — they own it, they should be conscious enough to recognize the local heroes here — the police and firemen who put their lives on the line every day,” Martin said. “What I’m talking about is to be socially conscious and aware. Don’t wait for somebody else, take matters into your own hands to make a difference in your community.”
Martin, vice president of sports marketing for AXA Equitable based out of New York City, lost several close friends during the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The people that I lost were very young — the age of my children,” Martin said. “And I thought that’s such a hideous attack to rob them of their future, their lives and to affect their parents. I’m a parent myself and I don’t think there’s any worse hurt that you could inflict upon a parent than to take their child away.”
Martin said he is raising money to help a significant number of recovery workers at Ground Zero who have developed serious, long-term medical problems over the last several years.
“I’ve seen how the first responders and rescue and recovery workers were adversely affected because of a toxic cloud,” Martin said. “I consulted with a lot of friends, family and associates and we came up with the Journey For 9/11.”
Martin’s walk began at the George Washington bridge in New York City on Sept. 16, 2007. His mission will end at San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge late this spring.
On a typical day of walking, Martin averages about 22 miles, and he has passed through portions of 11 states and the District of Columbia.
Martin said the biggest challenge of the massive walk is getting mentally prepared to walk every day.
“It hasn’t been particularly difficult physically,” Martin said. “It’s been more challenging mentally to get up and do the whole thing over and over again, repetitively. That can be a monotonous drain on you, but it’s been enjoyable because I’ve gotten to meet some incredible people and experience some wonderful things.”
The city of Portales also honored March 20 as “A Journey for 9/11 and George Martin Day.”
In addition to getting his own day in Portales, Martin picked up a few other awards for his efforts in the cause. He was named one of ABC News Persons of the Year in 2007, and he received the second annual Heisman Humanitarian Award