Island native LeighAnn Martinez is a Kessler Foundation employee who is sponsored to be one of 200 hundred disabled people to participate in the New York City Marathon.
Martinez will us an adapted hand cycle specially designed for individuals with disabilities to use their arms to maneuver the controls. The marathon is Nov. 4.
Martinez grew up her entire teenage years on Grand Island. After graduation from GIHS in 1994, she attended Erie Community College and became a licensed massage therapist. Shortly after starting her new career, Martinez tragically became paralyzed by a freak accident. One evening, she and a friend of hers were having fun playing around, and at one point he tried to lift her onto his shoulders. He lost his balance and accidentally dropped Martinez. She fell no more than a few feet, but as soon as she landed, Martinez knew something was terribly wrong. Her friend quickly called 911 and Martinez was brought to a local emergency room where she was diagnosed as having a complete spinal cord injury at the T-10 level - the middle of the chest - rendering her unable to move or feel her legs.
This was a very sad time for Martinez and for her family. After being diagnosed, she went to the Kessler Institute to learn how to adapt as a paraplegic. She worked extremely hard and tried to stay focused on the positive side of life. Due to her extreme motivation, perseverance, and positive attitude, Martinez was hired on at the Kessler Foundation as a research assistant.
Due to her hard work and dedication to her employers and patients, Martinez received in December 2008, from the New Jersey Rehabilitation Association the Tony Rocco Award, given annually to an individual with a disability who has overcome significant barriers to become successfully employed. In addition, the individual is someone who has improved the quality of his/her own life and the life of others through determination, self-motivation and an overall optimistic attitude. This individual also supports the purpose and efforts of the rehabilitation system and can act as a role model to others. Martinez possesses all of these qualities.
On Feb. 3, Martinez was one of the four chosen out of 10,000 people who were nominated for the Human Spirit Award. Each year, Kessler Institute presents the Human Spirit Award to the person or persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the independence and employment of people with disabilities.
Martinez also graduated this September from the University of Phoenix with her bachelor's degree in psychology and will be pursuing her master's degree in social work starting this upcoming January.
She is a cherished team member at Kessler Institute Foundation and is both an inspiration and a role model to everyone she meets. Martinez has the attitude that everyone has the ability to do something that they can enjoy, whether it is work, or finding new personal goals to achieve, and that you can live a good life. She believes that people with disabilities are not a separate part of America, but rather intricate threads in the fabric of American life.
And as Martinez states, "Kessler Foundation has given me the satisfaction of working every day with women and men who, like me, and are rebuilding their lives after injury or illness. Most important, my work contributes to research studies that improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. And remember that your life is not over, it has just changed. It is up to that individual to make every moment count, and to thrive on things that you can do."
To donate to Martinez's effort to participate in the New York City Marathon, email http://Give.kesslerfoundation.org/martineznyc2012; or mail to: Executive Hill Corporate Park, 300 Executive Drive Suite 70, West Orange, N.J. 07052-3390; or call 973-324-8362.
All proceeds go to helping raise money to fund research for people with disabilities such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. She has reached 50 percent of her goal so far of $20,000.