Make-A-Wish grants wish to flyWritten by Alissa Romstadt | | email@example.com
Instead of getting his driver’s license at 16 years old, Rich Martin was making his first solo flight. At 17, he received his pilot’s license. These accomplishments were possible because of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio.
Rich was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma a week before his 15th birthday.
A drummer in the marching band, he noticed a bump on his shoulder he thought was caused by the strap on his drum, his father, Lee Martin, said.
While in the hospital for treatment, a doctor referred him to Make-A-Wish.
His parents thought that when Make-A-Wish came knocking on the door it meant their son we going to die, Lee said. “We thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s terminal.’”
But they quickly learned that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for children with life-threatening, not necessarily terminal, illnesses. Rich had a 60 percent chance of survival, Lee said.
“I went through several different wishes,” Rich said. “I wanted an original flight simulator, not one of the computer ones, but the full motion ones.”
After discovering that full-motion flight simulators cost more that $18 million, Rich came up with a few other ideas, all involving airplanes and flying. “Then I realized I didn’t know how to fly,” he said. “So, I requested the money for my pilot’s license.”
“I can’t put into words how important that was to him,” Lee said.
There were days when Rich couldn’t eat and doctors were ready to put in a feeding tube, his father said. “The thing that gets people through those things is putting your mind somewhere else … He went to that airplane. He imagined himself flying.”
Even after beating cancer, Rich’s path hasn’t been easy, Lee said.
After graduating high school, Rich attended Emery Riddle University in Florida. Because of his health history, he could not get clearance to fly and transferred to Heidelberg University to pursue a degree in business.
After college, he was constantly turned down from all branches of the military, Lee said, but Make-A-Wish had allowed him to get his pilot’s license, which planted the seed to fly.
“[Rich] said, ‘I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life. I don’t know how, but somehow I’m going to have flying as part of my life,’” Lee said. It took hard work and persistence. Rich had everyone from doctors to the president of Heidelberg write letters to the military, requesting Rich’s acceptance.
Ten years after being diagnosed, Rich, 25, is a lieutenant in the Air Force in flight training at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife and children.
“Make-A-Wish definitely led me to where I am today,” he said.
Kimberly Ray, wish program manager of Make-A-Wish of Northwest Ohio, met Martin two years ago at the first Make-A-Wish walk in Toledo. He came as an ambassador for Make-A-Wish of America and spoke on behalf of the organization, she said. “He is just so appreciative of the organization. It’s been a great experience for him.”
Ambassadors travel wherever a speaker is requested, Rich, who has been in remission since May 1998, tailors his speeches to his audience, whether motivational or to raise funds, he said.
Looking back, being diagnosed with cancer is “obviously the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Martin said. “But it was also the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The experiences and the opportunities that I was afforded due to having cancer really outweigh the negative.”
One of those advantages is the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Really, there is no better foundation or organization to be associated with than the association that gives kids their dreams,” he said.
“Honestly, if you go out there and you say ‘What can I do?’ they say, ‘You can do this, you can go to this or you can help grant a kid his wish.’ And that’s an awesome choice, an awesome opportunity to be a part of.”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio is hosting Vines and Vices, a wine tasting event at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at Levis Commons. Participating Levis Commons restaurants will offer wines, appetizers and desserts during the event and all proceeds will support the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at ww.shopleviscommons.com or through Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio.