Young Rio Don Diego Martinez left a legacy in his hometown of Rye, Colorado that will remain for many years to come. A dynamic seventeen year old with an effervescent personality, he was the son of Jimmy "Rio" Martinez and Nancy. Jimmy was born and reared in the old coal mining town of Sopris. Mom (Nancy) was a native of Illinois. She spent her growing years in
Des Plaines in that same state. The Martinez couple met in Battle Creek, Michigan, married, and reared an older daughter, Mignon, who is currently married and resides in Texas. And then
they had a lovable little guy they dubbed Rio, which most people of the southwest know is Spanish for "river." A river, literally defined, is "a natural stream of water with a natural course." And, as the following story attests, this young man was on a unique course-a course for living life fully.
'Little Rio' was a genuine lover. He loved his parents with a devotion as deep as the deepest ocean; his affection for his many friends was as resplendant as the bubbly mountain springs of the Rye Valley where he was nurtured. No less did he love sports, and animals, and the great outdoors. He pursued his academic studies with the same ardor that he brought to his outdoor activities. He had, in hand, letters of acceptance for admission at the prestigious institutions of Princeton, Michigan, Arizona, and Stanford.
His reputation as a friend and companion, and as an athlete and a scholar, was unparalleled. He loved animals and the outdoors, and had friends too numerous to count. And he dearly loved his sports.
Tragically, young Rio's great potential was cut-off in midstream. On August I, 1997, while enjoying an outing with his friends in his beloved mountains near his home, a heart wrenching accident occurred, leaving little Rio mortally wounded.
Rio's renown as a scholar, and as a genuinely nice guy, however, live on.
"He was so happy all the time," reminisced Rye senior Debbie Espinoza, a cheerleader and great admirer of her high school chum. "He would run up behind you and startle you. He was always smiling and trying to cheer you up. If I were ever distraught, he would listen and hear me out. He would stay after basketball practice when we were practicing our cheerleading and teach us how to tip the basketball. He would do that for hours until the school people chased us out of the gym. We would go someplace to shoot basketballs in the dark. Rio loved his basketball. And he loved nature and fishing. He always wanted me to go fishing with him.
"No matter what, he was always happy. He just hated to see another person down. When I would go to a dance, I would look at a crowd of people, and when I went over there to check it out, there was Rio dancing and having a good time. We would all cheer him on. He was just a happy-go-lucky guy who was always trying to help everybody else. He just couldn't stand to see anybody else down."
Ann Heidrich, mother of Rio's good buddy Levi, echoed the thoughts of the pretty little cheerleader from Rye High School. "Rio loved everything about life," mused the elder Heidrich. "He enjoyed life to the fullest. I was never bored when he was around. I thoroughly enjoyed him. He spent a lot of time at my house. He was extremely hard to wake up in the morning when he stayed with us overnight. He loved the outdoors and animals. He knew a lot about hummingbirds, and he raised magpies. He was always so much fun, a neat kid, one of those special kids. He
would make faces at us and tease. And he was a good athlete, good at music and at academics. He liked everybody. He looked at a person from the inside. He had so many friends, he touched each of our lives. The kids miss him a lot."
Tammy Van Oort was the 'Little River's' English teacher at Rye High School. She, too, had warm remembrances of her former English student. "He was a fun kid, always happy," noted Van Oort. "He was a good student, academically conscientious. He was always teasing, in jest, not to be hurtful. He had a unique ability to interact with a lot of different kinds of people. He was a friend to everyone, and that is unusual with high school kids. He had a lot of friends. And he loved to play basketball."
Aaron Franchi, a junior at Rye High School and a close friend, also had some fond memories of the likable Rio. "He was always in a great mood, always had a great smile," said Franchi. "We could cut down each other, but it was always done in fun. He was an outstanding basketball player and an outstanding student. He had a 4.0 grade point average and was on the honor roll. He loved to compete. His smile was great when something good or bad would happen. He was never mean toward anybody, and would never do anything to hurt the feelings of others. He was
everybody's friend. I definitely miss him. I have his name on my wall and two pictures of him. We laughed a lot and had a good time together."
Julia Kline, a student at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, and a highly respected athlete, remembers, too. Kline was a senior at Rye High School when young Rio was a freshman. "He made a lot of funny faces and made everybody laugh," explained Kline. "He was right up there next to Jim Carey and Robin Williams. I know the kids miss him. He went to San Francisco to visit an aunt one time and he brought me back a sand dollar all wrapped up in pretty wrappings and ribbons. He told me I couldn't open it up until after I was out of work. I still have it."
And so 'Little Rio' lives on in the hearts of all those that knew him. To say that he was popular in the Valley of the Thunderbolts would constitute a gross understatement, for he touched the hearts of many. There is no question that mom and dad are proud of who he was, and the legacy he left behind.
"Rio had an amazing amount of compassion and was always doing things for others," said poppa Martinez in an earlier interview. "He was a very compassionate kid, a kid who had some good goals. Everybody liked him. When he set a goal, he'd go for it. He would definitely have wanted something good to come out of this, so Nancy and I thought we'd do something for Rio to help him accomplish his goals."
What resulted from 'Little Rio's' passing is nothing less than remarkable. He had a dream of running from his home in the mountains west of Rye to the high school, a trek of 19.5 long and arduous miles. On Saturday May 23, 1997, his fifty-three year old father made the momentous run on behalf of his beloved son. Numerous friends and colleagues made the run with him, for the memory of Rio, and for the benefit of organ and tissue donation. The Martinez's have made the next big step. All in the name of their son.
"Rio accomplished much in his life, and he continues to contribute," said the senior Martinez. "We're trying to make everyone aware of how important tissue and organ donations are. We are doing what we can for him for organ donation awareness, and we are also giving $1,000.00 a year to a senior from Rye High School in his memory. This scholarship to a Rye graduating senior personifies four basic characteristics; the recipient has to be a good student, participate in athletics, be compassionate, and have integrity. Those are the qualities I believe personified my
Mom, too, believes in the significance of her son's precious life. "He was a very positive kid, always there helping somebody one way or another," reflected Nancy, "And he still is helping others with his organs. We have to think positive, think of the things we could do to help others."
"There are people living today because of him," added papa Rio. "His skin is in a bum unit in Houston, Texas waiting for a recipient at this very moment."
"He has donated his organs to. an airline pilot, a teacher, and a firefighter as far as we know," said Nancy. "We're doing all we can for Rio to make people aware of the profound importance of organ donation."
Currently in the United States, there are 55,000 on the waiting list for organs, and approximately 5,000 donors. In all, ten per day on the waiting list will die. Each year a total of 20,000 organs are transplanted, as well as 450,000 tissue transplants (not including corneas).
"In 1996 there were only nine more individuals that donated their organs than were donated in 1997," concluded Nancy. "This is why we thought we wanted to do more for those who are in need of organs. Rio would have wanted that."
"We set up a table at the 'Run for Rio' in Rye and talked to quite a few of the people Rio touched," said Terry Mason in a telephone interview. Mason is the Southern Colorado Representative for the Donor Alliance with an office on Colorado Springs. "There were a lot of students, Booster Club members, and parents and friends who were there for the celebration and helping with the sale of t-shirts to raise money for the Rio Memorial Scholarship Fund. The Southern Colorado Runners Club will host their annual 10 K (6.7 miles) run in Beulah in
August (1998), and they are going to dedicate this run to Rio. They have invited Jim himself to run to honor Rio and to promote awareness.
"From a donor standpoint, I was really impressed with the support of the community and friends. There was also a great influx of support from his friends and acquaintances while he was in the hospital. It was impressive that he was so young, yet had so many friends. It was his nature to reach out to those in need of help. "
A new senate bill provides for organs to be donated by signing a drivers license or via a donor card, but, noted Mason, the legal next of kin still has to consent to facilitate the process. Those wishing to donate their organs should share their desire with their closest relatives.
"It was a tragic loss and mom and dad are trying to make something useful out f it," concluded Mason. "They are trying to educate us as to how people benefit from transplantation. We're most appreciative of the Martinez family and their willingness to promote family discussion. I'm really impressed that they are so supportive of the idea that all families should make the same decision they made for Rio."
Those who wish to donate their organs or seek further information should
contact the Donor Alliance at 3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 610, Denver, Colorado 80209, or contact Terry Mason, Southern Colorado Representative, at 1-888-868-4747.
'Little Rio' would like that.
Footnote: Following are two letters; the first written by dad to his son
Rio on the first anniversary of his passing, the second written by a family friend
from Rye. Each reflects the true essence of the young Mr. Rio Martinez:
A letter from dad:
Rio, where do you begin and where do you end?
From day one he was a challenge. He did not want to leave the safety of his mother's womb (three weeks past due). Since that first breath of fresh air, he was someone to be reckoned with. In my heart I know he was destined to be unique, therefore he needed a name to fit the man and his uniqueness, and no other name could have been more fitting. I have always felt that our son would make a positive difference in the lives of people he touched, and for mankind in general. He felt comfortable in that role, and his mind set was to be there for you always.
We talked a lot about all his ideas, plans, and the things he felt really
mattered; family, friends, education, sports, and the universe. At times we would lay
out, watch the stars, and he would say, "Dad, I believe there's life out there, and one
day would like to go there." I believe when I look up and see the brightest star, he's
done it all.
Letter from a friend:
August 3, 1997
Nancy and Jim,
A card is so inappropriate to express my emotions, as no card can bring the
comfort I want to give you both.
I thought I would share with you a conversation I had with Rio last year
during Homecoming. As you may recall, he spent the night at our home so he could
work on the float. On our front door I have a little sign. It says:
Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others stay for a while and leave footprint on our hearts, and we are never the same.
Rio read this just before he was leaving for school and said, "I really want to leave footprints on a lot of people's hearts. I can do it as long as I don't forget to take my football cleats om"
As the days surround your grief with the embrace of our community, look around at all our humanness, in all our grief, the compassion of us all portrays a lesson. No matter what differences we have dealt with in the past, it is the human compassion that will always bind us together. I truly pray that the embrace of compassion will unite each of us, each of our children as we all share and learn to deal with the trauma of our loss.
In our humanness we all need to remember to take of our cleats. Today Rio's spirit is truly reflected in the footprints he as left on so many hearts, and we will never be the same.
In love and friendship.