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Hometown hero to be honored in Fort Howard cemetery walk

Martin's gravestone
Dr. Dave Martin will be honored for his legacy and changing the sport of distance running for women in the Fort Howard cemetery walk from June 11-13. Submitted photos

By Tori Wittenbrock

Associate Sports Editor

HOWARD – Taking part in long distance runs like the Cellcom Marathon or the Bellin Run have been a big part of life for people in the Green Bay community for many years — especially women.

However, this may not have been a possibility if not for a local man who changed the sport of running for females around the entire world through his lifelong dedication to research and training.

Dr. Dave Martin, born in the city of Green Bay in 1939, will be honored for his world-renowned, decades-long career at the Fort Howard cemetery walk from June 11-13 as his accomplishments and studies are discussed and honored for the local community.

Dedication to his craft

After graduating Owen, Wisc., in 1957, Martin attended UW-Madison where he started running in cross country and began his studies regarding the sport of long distance running and cardiovascular health.

After obtaining a PhD from UW-Madison, Martin relocated to Georgia where he attended Emory University and was there for 17 years before moving to Georgia State to teach physiology to medical students.

Although the majority of his career was spent in Georgia, Martin gained a big advantage in his career from his time in Wisconsin.

“He had a professor — Dr. Wolf — at Madison that was his mentor,” said Martin’s sister, Kathleen Strey.

“Dave (Martin) was his protege and was just one of the students who came through his class that was extraordinary and exceptional. He was very influential and they got along more like a father and son than a professor and student.”

In keeping in touch with Wolf, Martin would often travel down to be a guest medical professor on the island of Grenada.

“His method of teaching was different from just an ordinary classroom. He often had a field trip and focused on explaining things with just common sense. That’s why all the students wanted to get in his class. They had heard about that and they wanted to be with Dr. Dave (Martin),” said Strey.

According to Strey, Martin was so enamored with the island of Grenada that he intended to work there full time and began looking for real estate.

However, when Grenada was invaded in 1983, the University was shut down for four years, Martin’s plans changed.

“They evacuated all the faculty and Dave (Martin) was on the last plane to leave the island to get out of that situation,” said Strey.

Martin relocated to Atlanta and began his work at Georgia State. By that time, he was so devoted to his elite lab and research, and he was so involved with the people that would come and train with him that he stayed in Atlanta for the rest of his life.”

Passion from an early age

Strey, being about six years younger, said that she always respected her brother for his diligence and pursuit of knowledge.

“Dave (Martin) is world renowned. He was famous on his own merit as a world class statistician, mentor, author and a tenured professor at Georgia State,” said Strey.

“His students were always two years out to be in his class. He was always professor of the year, year after year. He was just phenomenal.”

According to Strey, Martin was interested in learning his entire life and was always working to better his understanding of different subjects.

“He was like that his whole life. Always an overachiever, from a little kid on. He was a true academic. He always had his nose in the encyclopedia while we were growing up and always seeking knowledge. He is the most educated person I have ever known,” said Strey.

“My mother was like that too. She was valedictorian of her class and she and Dave were just these super smart people. Things came easy to them academically.”

Changing the world

Martin’s dedication to his work had international repercussions that changed the sport of running forever.

“It’s just phenomenal the things he did — especially for women and the sport of running,” said Strey.

“In the 70’s, that was the dark ages for women to run in marathons. It was against the law, and he was an advocate for women in sports and was beneficial in helping to pass a lot of laws over the years for women to take part in sports and the Olympics especially. He was a mentor to so many people and students that were out there looking to achieve more.”

Martin’s publications and relentless efforts were a major contribution to the establishment of the first international women’s marathon in the USA in 1978, held in Atlanta, as well as the implementation of the women’s marathon in the 1984 Olympics.

Martin’s work influenced a great deal of people from the average runner, to world-renowned Olympians.

“People would come internationally, from everywhere, to come and train for the Olympics at his elite lab, and he helped many of them win medals — win gold, win silver,” said Strey.

Martin’s knowledge of the sport of running was top tier and was utilized by the best of the best athletes in the sport — especially during the 1984 Olympics held in the United States.

“When we had the Olympics here, he was the head of our track and field operations. He was the one who took the troop over to where the Olympics were being held and was instrumental in designing their uniforms and acquiring the plane tickets and making their arrangements for their housing.”

In every asset, Martin’s work benefited the sport of running.

His research and publications were especially essential to his success and high-profile standing among the running community.

“The books he’s written are the bible to runners,” said Strey.

Even long after his death, Martin’s legacy continues to help people as they navigate their studies of the science of running.

“There are foundations in Atlanta at the University right now — several foundations for research that sponsor marathons and kids who have talent and need scholarships,” said Strey.

Hardly a hurdle

Because his studies were such a priority for him, even when diagnosed with Parkinsons, Martin did not let anything get in the way of his career.

“He was diagnosed with Parkinsons in 2005. To him, it was unimportant. The work is what was important. He did not let that slow him down one bit. Nobody even knew he had Parkinsons. He was publishing and writing right up to two weeks before he actually passed. He never spoke about it. Nobody even knew about it until the very end when he was in decline and it was obvious that something happened,” said Strey.

“He was continuing to publish and put his thoughts and words out there in articles and magazines like he had his whole life.”

Memorialized forever

Martin passed away at the age of 78 in the year 2018, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy for the sport of running. At the time of his death, Martin had completed 29 marathons in his lifetime.

“We were originally born (in Green Bay). Our grandparents and parents were originally from there. We were both born in Bellin Hospital. I’m down here in Texas, but when I die, I will be back there too. That’s where we are from. That’s our roots. Our whole family is buried in that cemetery and we will come back there to join them,” said Strey.

Because Martin was so revered on an international scale, Strey said that there are countless people who visit his burial site to honor his memory.

“If you would visit his tomb in Fort Howard, it’s more of a historical marker than an actual tombstone,” said Strey.

Martin running in 1980
Martin competing in the Dannon 6 Mile Race on June 7, 1980 for the Atlanta Track Club.

“He was a keynote speaker all over the place — especially Japan. When he passed away, he was front page headline news in Japan, Australia, Germany.”

Strey said that visiting Martin’s site is an experience in itself and an amazing opportunity to familiarize yourself with what his life was all about.

“There has never been anyone that has replaced him to do the work he has done as a statistician, as a coach, as a mentor. You’ve got a lot of good coaches out there, but what he did was unique and specialized,” said Strey.

Strey said that she was proud to learn that her brother would be memorialized in his hometown as part of the Fort Howard cemetery walk because he has earned a privileged spot among his community.

“I was surprised because he deserves this. Dave deserves this. He always just wanted to get the message out there. It was never about him but always about the sport of running and encouraging everyone,” said Strey.

The community is encouraged to attend the Fort Howard cemetery walk in the coming weeks.

Anyone can attend the walk with a cost of $15 per person ($12 for members).

“He’s a famous person and a lot of people in Green Bay might enjoy the talk and the walk and if they had known him they would be proud to see that a hometown man did a lot of good and his monument is out there. A lot of people will be visiting Green Bay because of him,” said Strey.

“We just came from a little bitty small town and grew up in central Wisconsin, but I’m telling you, he made his mark on the world. He changed legislation about women’s ability to participate in runs.”

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