Having never pedaled a bike before in her life, Martha De Martini readily signed on for a 192-mile journey.
It was about far more than tackling a new challenge, it was about helping a 5-year-old little boy in her class battling cancer.
A veteran teacher at Elwood Public Schools on Long Island, New York, Martha cherished every single one of her students; but Matthew, with his cheerful outlook in the face of liver and brain cancer, was a favorite. So, when he came forward with a request to join his bicycle team, her answer was immediate – “Sure, I will.”
The East Northport resident admits, it took some hard won conditioning to join the team, but it was worth every minute and muscle ache to participate in the 2-day Pan-Mass Challenge , pedaling throughout the state of Massachusetts with a finish in Provincetown.
It was a big fundraising commitment, too, Martha remembers, with each rider required to raise a minimum $5,000-$6,000. But, no worries, she figured she’d hold a dinner. Questioned if it was homemade and held at her house, Martha instantly elaborates with laughter, “Oh no! At a restaurant.”
“I had all these prizes (for the raffle),” she remembers. “The grand prize was a weekend at Woodloch.”
Martha had earlier written a letter to Woodloch CEO John Kiesendahl asking for a donation. The resort owner’s immediate reply, “You had me at the child’s cancer story.”
The raffle was a huge success, with one man actually donating $500 alone, both for the worthy cause and to try to win. “I think I raised $12,000,” she recalls. Martha had done so well at the fundraiser she was then able to help out her fellow teammates. There were 17 people on the child’s cycling team, headed up by his dad.
Asked how Matthew is doing, one can hear the smile in Martha’s voice as she tells how the now 8th grader is “doing fabulous,” and just so happens to be part of a competitive Lacrosse team.
And there’s an awesome twist to his story, the once critically ill student was granted a miracle. X-rays which had once shown liver cancer spreading to the brain were re-taken; new x-rays showed nothing. “It was gone,” Martha remembers. “They wound up not having to do brain surgery. There was no cancer. It had disappeared.”
If you’re wondering if the original x-ray film was misread, that’s not it. “Several specialists had agreed that x-rays showed it had moved to the brain,” Martha tells the backstory. It came all the way down to the wire. “They had wheeled him into surgery and already marked his head,” Martha says. Only to find that a necessary x-ray had gone missing and had to be retaken. There’s no such thing as coincidence.
Seeing their son wheeled out of surgery before it had even started left the parents assuming the worst. A delicate surgery due to take hours was over before it had ever begun. “We don’t know how to tell you this – there’s nothing,” the surgeon said. That new x-ray was proof positive God’s healing hand was at work.
Asked if Matthew has praying parents, Martha said most definitely. “A miracle! He’s the most amazing kid.”
Martha tells a side story of how Matthew’s mom was pregnant at the time and wondering what to name the new family member. And how Matthew had suggested naming the baby after the family dog. “No, we can’t name him after the dog,” his mom said.
A Nun told the mom not to worry, that when the time came, “God will tell you what to name the baby.” It wasn’t long later, that Matthew told his mom, “His name is Thomas. God told me his name was Thomas.” And so it was.
On a side note: Martha and her extended family have a longtime relationship with Woodloch. “Our kids were babies,” when they first started coming, she said. “Our oldest is (now) a sophomore in college.”
It was her in-laws, Lucille and the late Arthur De Martini, Sr., who first learned of Woodloch through a senior bus group. And the rest is history.
The best part of Woodloch? “It sounds so hokey, but just being with our family,” Martha says, meaning every word.
This year is a bit difficult for the De Martinis who have suffered a loss of the family patriarch. Arthur De Martini, Sr., a WWII Veteran, passed away August 28, 2016, age 94.
“He loved Woodloch because of how you treat the Military – You’re so proud of Americans,” Martha says.