For those of you who don't know me, my name is Nicole Sheppard. When I had first met Sally Martinez, I was five years old. I had just started to get involved with Bordentown soccer and softball. I quickly became close with her daughter, Sammy, who is still one of my closest friends. Sammy and I quickly became inseparable, spending every weekend over each other's houses, playing sports, going to work at Rider with Mrs. Martinez. We became like family to each other.
Mrs. Martinez was born in Vineland, New Jersey. She was a prestigious runner. She competed at the University of Houston and Florida International University. She was the women’s distance coach at Florida International for four years, where she was named the Trans American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year three times. She started coaching at Rider University in 1994.
In fourth grade, we had found out that Mrs. Martinez was pregnant. Soon after that, we found out the news that would change the Martinez's life forever: Mrs. Martinez was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I did not understand how dangerous this was not only for Mrs. Martinez, but for the baby as well. She was able to undergo surgery and chemo while still carrying the baby. My family helped out in any way that we could. Whether it was taking over meals or having Sam and her younger brother, Jared, come over to play for the day. It was not an easy pregnancy, but Mrs. Martinez gave birth to Liam, who is now a happy, healthy 9 year old boy.
After going through chemo, her scans came back clear. Unfortunately, this was not the end of Mrs. Martinez’s battle with cancer. When we were in middle school, she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. She fought hard again, and was given the news that she was clear again.
One day in during Senior year of high school, Sammy said she needed to talk to me in the bathroom. We went in and she told me that her mom’s cancer had come back for a third time. I remember being scared about what the next few months would hold for her. I went to talk to her about what was going on, and she told me that she was going to keep fighting because she had a lot of life left to live. At that moment, her strength and courage was inspiring to me. I knew that no matter what life through at me, I would try to emulate her optimistic outlook on life.
I started my Freshman year at The College of New Jersey and had a difficult time adjusting to college life. I texted Mrs. Martinez and we would talk about everything. She would text me a few times a week to make sure I was doing alright. I was able to go watch her throw out the first pitch at the Rider Softball Team’s “Playing for the Pink” game. She was very excited to see me there, and everyone she introduced me too, she bragged about me like I was her own daughter.
In September of 2013, we had found out that Mrs. Martinez only had about six months to live. It was a shock to all of us. Before we knew it, the cancer had started to take over her body very quickly. I am blessed to say that I was able to be with her until the end, along with Sammy, our two childhood best friends, Jess and Leyla, and the Martinez family. On September 27, Mrs. Martinez passed away.
Her story is one that I hope to share with everyone I meet. While she had lost her battle to cancer, she was an inspiration to so many of those who she knew. Her 10 year battle with cancer is one to be admired. She fought with everything she had in her body. She was always optimistic and never gave up hope. She continued to live her life to the fullest, and never let the cancer take over who she was. Mrs. Martinez was genuine, kind, non-judgmental, selfless, loving, and above all courageous. She made a difference in everyone’s lives that she met. I know she would have been supportive of my participation in this race and may have even wanted to train me. This year, I am running the Rugged Maniac in honor of Mrs. Sally Martinez.