Monday night's BCS National Championship Game at Sun Life Stadium set the scene for a bittersweet homecoming for one South Florida family.
The screams of the 80,000 fans were in true-life surround sound for the proud parents in section 135. Arturo Martinez Sr. and Eliana Martinez were dressed in matching No. 86 Notre Dame jerseys as they watched their son, Arturo Martinez Jr., who beat cancer before he walked on to the Fighting Irish football team.
Eliana Martinez said they used to sit on their patio and joke about whether their 20-year-old son, a junior defensive end, thought Notre Dame would make the BCS championship.
“He believed it,” her husband said. “Oh, there was no doubt in his mind, he thought that they were going all the way from the beginning. And I was just, alright, whatever you say, I’m along for the ride.”
Notre Dame fell short against Alabama, but the title game matchup was a chance for Martinez Jr., a Belen Jesuit Preparatory School alum, to return to his hometown field. His improbable story began six years ago when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
At the tender age of 14, Martinez underwent excruciating rounds of chemotherapy treatment after the disease spread throughout his body. The indelible memory of seeing their son so weak shook the Martinez family to the core. And the idea of being able to watch him play sports again was unthinkable.
But he persevered, and beat the cancer. As a senior at Belen, Martinez walked on to the Wolverines football team and fell in love with the game.
The experience inspired him to beat the odds once again, and as a freshman in South Bend, he walked on the Notre Dame football team. The 6-foot-6-inches, 250-pound linebacker has yet to play a snap for Notre Dame, but with his incredible story of survival, the luck of the Irish is most certainly on his side.
“As a parent, you never want to see your child go through something like that,” Martinez Sr. said. “But to me, to see him really go and just really struggle through everything and persevere has been to me just a joy – I’m inspired by him.”