For three months, former New York Giants defensive lineman and 1986 Super Bowl champion George Martin rose at 4:00am on Saturdays and Sundays, walked thirteen miles to a state park, and then walked the fourteen-mile length of that park. It was Martin’s way of training for a challenge unlike any he’d faced during his many years with the NFL. You see, George Martin had decided to walk across the United States.
This decision wasn’t some bizarre manifestation of a mid-life crisis. It was a way to raise awareness and money for rescue and recovery workers who tried to save lives during and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Exposed to toxins during that time, these first-responders have recently faced severe health problems and ever-increasing medical expenses.
Aware of their plight, George Martin chose to help. During an interview on the radio program 'Christopher Closeup,' he said, “In my estimation, a golf outing or a dinner banquet just didn’t rise to the level of exposure that we were looking for. And so being a country boy and always having a love of the outdoors and always having the desire to walk across country, I figured it was time in my life at 54 years old to accomplish this.”
Christening his task “A Journey For 9-11,” George set out from New York on Sept. 16, 2007 and is currently in Arizona nearing the end of his trek. His experience so far has been incredibly life-affirming.
George grew up an African-American in the South and often heard the message that he was “less of a human being than his white counterparts.” Though hoping for the best, George wasn’t sure what to expect considering that the news today is constantly full of stories about how divided this country is.
When asked if he saw the division and animosity often talked about in the media, George said, “I think that is probably one of the biggest misconceptions that I’m glad to eradicate through my experience on my journey for 9-11…As an African-American male walking across this country, I have received nothing but warmth, nothing but generosity, nothing but a sense of charity from everyone I’ve come into contact with…So I can tell you – yes, there are divisions within this country but they are the exceptions, they are not the rule. The rule is that, for the most part, people are warm and embracing and have a charitable nature about them, and they have been so receptive to our cause, A Journey For 9-11.”
George isn’t afraid to acknowledge God as the source of his courage in taking the leap of faith to walk across the country. He said, “Were it not for my belief in the Almighty, I don’t think that I could ever have embarked upon this journey… The thing that sustained us was that we believed with God’s help, with His grace, and with His mercy, this would be a successful endeavor.”
Ultimately, this journey is not about George Martin. It’s about helping those who helped others – and about redefining the way we see heroes in our culture.
George concludes, “I think when you attach the term hero primarily to professional athletes and celebrities – and you see the chaotic situations that are happening…among athletes and the perpetual moral decay within the community of celebrities – I don’t know why you would ever admire or look up to someone who perpetually goes into drug rehab or who conducts themselves in a manner that’s not befitting to what you want your kids to grow up to be. I think that term ‘hero’ should be reserved for those individuals like those first-responders and those rescue and recovery workers –individuals who are selfless in nature, individuals who give in order to make our lives better, individuals who make the ultimate sacrifice at times – those to me are the people who should be deemed heroes.”
(For more information on "A Journey For 9-11," click here. To listen to the full interview with George, go to www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.