Though felled by a horrific riding accident last year that left him paralyzed from the waist down, former Northern California jockey Michael Martinez apparently isn't letting his circumstances stop him from getting on with life.
According to his agent and spokesman Dennis Patterson, the 24-year-old Panamanian-born jockey is going to marry his longtime sweetheart, Charlotte Garcia, in a small private ceremony at their San Pablo, Calif., home March 4. Two days later, Martinez plans to attend a fundraising dinner in his honor to be held at the San Pablo Moose Lodge.
"He's doing well," Patterson said. "He's undergoing several different types of therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and he's adjusting to his life. He's been really positive about it all."
Patterson said Martinez is especially looking forward to seeing his racetrack friends and acquaintances during the fundraising event. About 300-350 people are expected to attend.
"This will be his first chance to see a lot of these people since the accident," he said. "So he's excited."
Martinez, a five-year racing veteran who was the second-leading rider at Golden Gate Fields when he was injured last Sept. 12, fell when the horse he was riding clipped heels, stumbled, and pitched him to the ground. His head and spine were trampled in a crush of hooves and he suffered significant brain bruising in addition to severe spinal damage. He underwent 11 hours of emergency surgery at an Oakland hospital and spent weeks hospitalized.
Johnny Palmer, a friend of Martinez who was at the track that day, said, "At first it looked like he was dead. Then later they said he was totally paralyzed. And now it turns out that he's paralyzed from the waist down. He's doing pretty good, considering."
Palmer, a part-owner of a horse that Martinez rode for trainer Bill McLean, is coordinating the March 6 fundraiser.
"After this happened, I told Bill, 'We've got to do something for him. He's our friend,'" Palmer related
The event, with a $20 donation, gets underway at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour followed by a buffet dinner catered by local restaurant La Strada. There will be live musical entertainment and a raffle and silent and live auctions will be held. Moose Lodge 550 is at 13233 San Pablo Ave. Phone (510) 734-5469 for more information.
Those who cannot attend but would like to make a donation can do so by check to the "Michael Martinez Fund" at First Bank, 13830 San Pablo Ave., Suite A, San Pablo, 94806. Palmer said a charity golf tournament for Martinez is being planned in May. In addition, Golden Gate Fields has maintained a fund for the injured rider since the accident.
Palmer said some of the proceeds are to to help Martinez travel to a stem-cell treatment hospital in Lisbon, Portugal.
Dr. David Seftel, track physician at Golden Gate Fields, said efforts are being made to get Martinez stem-cell therapy treatment at the Egas-Moniz Hospital in the near future with a strong possibility of success if he can overcome immigration issues that could prevent him from returning home.
Seftel visited Martinez the week of Feb. 21 and said he was impressed with his progress. He believes that the Lisbon hospital, which uses stem-like progenitor cells found in the nose in its treatment, could aid Martinez with "regaining as much function as possible." In particular, it could help with bowel and bladder use in the lower region and strength in his upper half, he said.
"This is one of the best organized stem-cell programs in the world," Seftel said. "They have achieved some remarkable results."
However, Seftel said Martinez can't go until he has clearance from the immigration department allowing him to return to the United States once the treatments are completed.
Meanwhile, Martinez is to be married to Garcia. They have a 5-month-old daughter, Merari Charlotte, who was born at the same time that Martinez was recovering from surgery at the same hospital.
As far as the future, Martinez's plans are undecided, his agent Patterson said.
"He wants to stay in the (San Francisco) Bay Area," Patterson said. "He hasn't really talked about what he's going to do."
Having his wife and child around him "has probably been the high point" of his road to recovery, Patterson added.
"She has been tremendous, sticking through this with him," Patterson said of Martinez's fiancé. "I can't say enough good things about her."