Ex-NFL Star Walks to Raise Millions for 9/11 Responders

George Martin walks across 13 states to help ill Ground Zero responders.

June 22, 2008— -- George Martin began walking last September, and, up until Saturday, had been walking ever since. The former NFL star walked more than 5 million steps over ten months, crossing the United States from the George Washington Bridge in New York and finishing in San Diego, California.

First profiled as a Person of the Week by ABC News in September 2007, Martin took steps across 13 states to achieve his goal.

Martin played in the NFL for 14 years, and was co-captain, winning Super Bowl XXI as a New York Giant defensive end. In starting this journey, he hoped that his celebrity would raise awareness for his cause -- raising millions of dollars for the medical care of the 9/11 responders.

"In the midst of that, as people were running away from that disaster, there were a group of people actually running toward that disaster. And that to me showed true bravery, true courage, and as a result of that, they subjected themselves and their health, even their lives to an unknown hazard," said Martin.

The hazard he's speaking about was the air around Ground Zero after the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of those who breathed that air have become sick and need help. The federal government has been widely criticized for waiting years to help. And the help that has come about for these heroes, many argue, has fallen short.

And that's why Martin created this trip. "I don't think of myself as a hero, because I am looked upon as a hero, because I played a kid's game at a professional level. The people who I think are heroes are people who sacrificed their lives," said Martin.

Martin took a southern route through 13 states, equipped with a GPS device so he could be tracked at any point. He averaged 22 miles per day on the 3,200-mile walk. Along the way, Martin said many people thought he was nuts. "Some people say it's a mid-life crisis. I like the fact that, if this is a mid-life crisis, I hope everybody goes through it.

"I think the vast majority of people think I'm nuts. I am part of the baby boomer generation, and walking to us wasn't anything extraordinary. Now ... people can't even walk to the store and they certainly can't even walk to the mall," said Martin.

Although he trudged through all sorts of weather, including rain, winter storms and heat, this boomer says his game plan was far easier than the ones he faced on the football field. "I would rather face this any day of the week than a [football coach] Bill Parcells training camp, I can tell you that." Martin trained for months in a local park before beginning his journey.

At the beginning of his journey, Martin explained that he was looking forward to the solitude of the walk. "I can't wait to get to a part of the country where I can ingest the solitude and ... get some introspection and some reflection upon what I'm doing, and stay focused on the reasons why I'm doing it."

But it was meeting Americans along the way that he was most excited about. "They come out very, very humbly and very proudly, they shake your hand. They'll hand you a bottle of water or Gatorade or whatever it is. They say, 'God bless you,' and they say it with such sincerity. It really touches your heart."

So, on Saturday, 41 pounds lighter, 27 pairs of sneakers and 413 pairs of socks later, Martin finally reached the end zone in San Diego, greeted by police officials, firefighters, NFL alumni and perhaps his biggest fan, his mother.

In what is possibly the most significant play of his life so far, Martin raised more than $2 million for those first responders.