Michelle and Ed "Poncho" Martin.

Strength was never a problem for Ed Martin. A basketball and football star at Evanston Township High School. A member of the ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame. Earned a college football scholarship. Played pro ball.

Academic strength was never a problem either. In the National Honor Society. A role model scholar-athlete, Class of 1980.

But now, the physical strength is gone. At age 59, Ed “Poncho” Martin, is bedridden, totally paralyzed, can’t speak, can only eat through one tube, and breathe through another.

Martin has ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named for the New York Yankees legend who died from the debilitating neurological illness in 1941.

And like Lou Gehrig, Ed Martin knows the frightening and depressing decline from physically fit and athletic to the inability to even move.

With a need for round-the-clock care, specialized beds, transportation, and numerous other expenses, Martin’s wife Michelle says the bills top $200,000 a year. And while insurance from her job as a school teacher covers some, she says it’s nowhere near enough.

So a couple of Martin’s college friends from Indiana State University have started a GoFundMe campaign to help.

One of those organizers, Regina Hollomon, says that in college, Martin was “charismatic,” and “was one of those guys who crossed all barriers.”

Another friend working on the fund-raiser, fellow football player Lindsey Montgomery, says Martin was a “team player,” who helped attract other Black athletes to Indiana State.

Ed Martin

Michelle Martin says she was “taken aback” when she learned of the friends’ GoFundMe campaign. “It actually brought me to tears,” she says. “I was overwhelmed with their generosity.”

And actually, Ed Martin does have one tiny bit of physical strength left. He is able to use his vision on a computerized device called an “eye-gazer,” which lets him send emails by focusing his eyes on the appropriate letters to spell out words.

It’s a slow process, but it let Martin correspond with Evanston Now.

Originally from Atlanta (where he now lives once again), Martin moved to Evanston in 1978, as a 16-year old, who “quickly fell in love” with the community.

Martin recalls “how excited I would get when I tried to describe the size, facilities, and amenities of ETHS” to his former Atlanta schoomates, who attended a very small building.

Martin won many local and statwide awards as a defensive end at ETHS, made several All-America teams at Indiana State (and was inducted into that school’s sports Hall of Fame), and was drafted both by the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL, and the Pittsburgh Maulers of the USFL, in 1984.

Martin ended up playing two years for the USFL’s Los Angeles Express, later signing with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL, but a knee-injury cut short his career before any NFL games.

ALS was diagnosed “on October 5, 2017,” Martin very specifically recalls, so he is already close to living more than the 2-5 years expected for ALS patients.

Martin says each successive loss of function, at least at the start, led to “a momentary bout of depression” along with tears.

“Have I ever asked myself why me?,” Martin says.

“You bet.”

Martin continues: “When I asked God ‘Why me?,’ He answered that I was assigned this mountain to show that it can be moved.”

Moving such a mountain is, at least as of now, impossible. There is no cure for ALS, although research is ongoing. Martin says if medical science cannot find a cure, he hopes Jesus will.

And while his physical strength has been taken by the disease, Martin’s academic strength hasn’t slowed down a bit.

He uses his “eye-gazer” to trade stocks on the market.

Both Martin and his wife Michelle hope they can be inspirations to others facing similar challenges.

He says he’s accepted that there are just certain things which are out of his control, but while it may seem like the disease is winning, “I still have my mind, my brain, my eyes, my heart” and “unswavering support and unconditional love” from Michelle.

However long he has left, Martin says “God has something greater in store for me.”

“So” he says, “I fight on!”

The GoFundMe page for Ed Martin is: https://gofund.me/8d3fee53.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. I want to wish Ed my very best wishes. I personally know what he is going through and we have to stay positive even though it is hard. At the moment I’m not at the same stage as he is. I was diagnosed on November 8/2018. I’m still able to walk slowly with a walker. My speech is not very good. The rest is not too bad for the moment.
    I also wish you lots of peace. God be with you.
    Fondly
    Sharon
    Montreal Canada

    1. Sharon,
      Thanks so much for your well wishes! We pray 🙏🏽 daily for a cure. It’s time to end ALS! God bless!

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