Hometown Hero Emily Martin: Caring for all creatures great and small

She’s taking a practice run in the pole vault — eyes straight ahead, pole raised, legs churning — then suddenly, she stops. She bends over, gingerly picking up a bug on the path and placing it out of harm’s way, then continues her vaulting. It’s a small example of Emily Martin’s reverence for all of life, say her grandparents, Stella and Chuck Martin.

Each year

She’s taking a practice run in the pole vault — eyes straight ahead, pole raised, legs churning — then suddenly, she stops.

She bends over, gingerly picking up a bug on the path and placing it out of harm’s way, then continues her vaulting.

It’s a small example of Emily Martin’s reverence for all of life, say her grandparents, Stella and Chuck Martin.

“Emily is one of the most caring individuals I have met,” says Jay Freundlich, a coach and teacher at South Whidbey High School. “Her dedication and love of the earth and all its creatures is one of her outstanding traits.”

“She once stayed at the high school all night to rescue some abandoned kittens,” he recalls. “Her actions and her choices constantly reflect these commitments, from the food she eats, to the way she talks about others. We can all learn from Emily to think through our actions and the impacts they cause.”

When asked about her compassion for all creatures, the SWHS senior says, “I am very fortunate to be raised with the belief that all forms of life deserve respect and care. With this belief, it naturally inspired me to want to care for our natural resources, for humanity and for each living thing.”

“Emily joyfully goes about her life looking for ways to serve others in ways that don’t benefit her,” says Kevin Lungren, transportation and maintenance supervisor for the school district.

“Emily came to see me a few months ago with some suggestions to beautify the high school courtyard and replace some dead trees,” Lungren says. “Her vision and work will make the courtyard more enjoyable for everyone. When I mentioned some rodent control issues, and asked if she might be willing to make us some owl-nest boxes, she and Ben Saari enthusiastically took on this challenge, and constructed substantial boxes that should last for years.”

Martin’s zest for life is matched by the vivid multicolored, multi-patterned clothes she wears. But it’s more than her clothes that make her truly stand out from others.

“I definitely feel we have an obligation in life to do our best. Many people will never have the gifts, talents or opportunities that many of us have, and it is shameful to let our privileges go to waste. I remind myself of this a lot; it can be easy to forget sometimes,” she says. “Many people struggle in this world beyond what most of us will experience, so I feel I owe it to them to make the best out of every situation.”

She says she does tend to cheerlead for the underdog, whether that be another person, a baby chick or even an insect.

“I believe we are to help those that have a need. We all at times need some extra care or a friend.”

Sharon, Martin’s mother, can easily recall examples of her daughter’s giving nature.

“Emily noticed a new classmate who was deaf and wheelchair-bound. She wanted to be able to communicate with her and befriend her, so she learned sign language. The two became good friends, sharing lunches, birthday parties and lots of laughter. Emily became quite adept at sign language,” her mom says.

“I’m not sure who benefited most from their friendship, but I know they both gave and received.”

Martin lives true to her principals, from sticking to her vegan diet — something inspired by a visit to a dairy when she was a little girl — to saying what she believes.

“I notice sometimes people changing when they are around people that wouldn’t agree with them. Or sometimes someone will do something just to be part of a group, where on their own they would never do that,” she says. “I think it’s important to be true to ourselves at all times, even if we might be laughed at or left out. In the end we will feel better about ourselves.”

She happily calls herself “a pretty goofy person.” She wears very bright, odd, colorful outfits, because they make her feel happy. If her outfits make others laugh, Martin joins in.

“Humor is the perfect way to handle most circumstances, especially when it comes to ourselves.

I don’t care for woman’s clothing; its objective is only about making us look good, how boring is that? I prefer the happy clothes that kids wear. I think I wear bright, odd clothes to bring a little more laughter in the world.”

“I use humor for anything I can,” she says.

“Some situations, however, don’t call for humor, as when I hear of animal abuse or neglect, people being mistreated, and the stripping of our natural resources,” Martin quickly adds. “Once I hear of an injustice,

I can’t just sit back and not do something.”

Many have noticed her eagerness to help others, great and small.

“I met Emily through cross country, having volunteered to help out the high school cross country team for the past four years,” says Kathy Rogers. “Emily coaches her little sister’s soccer team, and helps with Langley Middle School track meets.”

“Emily is extremely thoughtful, and hilarious,” Rogers notes. “Her love of all things living surpasses any I’ve seen before. She is constantly rescuing abandoned animals: kittens, partridges, turkeys, squirrels and penguins. It makes no difference to her if they’re cute or homely; if they’re in need, she’s on it. She cares about her community and her world and is always striving to improve it.

“She is extremely dedicated to her family, to her older brother and younger sisters, her parents and grandmother, which has always impressed me,” Rogers adds. “Emily is someone who makes me want to improve myself, just because of who she is.”

Emily Martin

Born: May 11, 1993 in Everett.

Family: Father Greg, a systems analyst, mother Sharon, a former vet tech, and siblings Trevor, age 21, Clara, 13 and Abigail, 5.

Years on Whidbey: All my life.

Hobbies: Animals, gardening, sports, bike riding.

A few people you admire?

“My grandparents; Erik Jokinen, an enthusiastic and encouraging teacher; Jay Freundlich, for being a mentor to me and a role model; Jean Favini of Oasis for Animals, for her help for animals.”

Best advice?

“Don’t worry about what others might think of you. Focus on what you know is right for you.”

Favorite author?

“I always have enjoyed since childhood Patricia Polacco. She exemplified the underdog in each of her stories.”

Something about you most don’t know?

“I can’t tell the difference between my right and left hands.”

What do you do when you feel down or depressed?

“I take a walk outside, or listen to music.”

Attributes you admire in others?

“People that live their values, and people that are willing to admit they love something other people hate.”

What is something you are working on learning?

“I am still learning how to accept other views that are so different from mine. I see certain things very strongly sometimes, and I have a hard time seeing what others see. I have learned over the years to take a deep breath when I am being accused of being malnourished or asked, ‘Don’t you just crave a juicy steak?’ I have learned that people are much more likely to listen to your views if you present them in a way that they don’t feel like they’re being attacked, even if I feel as if my way of life is.

I have to remember that people were raised differently than I was, so I have to understand where they are coming from.”

Whom would you like to meet? Why?

“I would like to meet Barbara Kingsolver. I love her writing and her ability to tell an intriguing story. Her lifestyle choices as well as her writing inspire me. Her book ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ has helped to inspire me to go into the field of agriculture. I would like to meet her because she has impacted my life through her words and life choices.”


What others have to say about Emily Martin

“Emily Martin and I have been friends for a long time, probably starting with seventh-grade cross country or maybe even before. However, in these past two years we have become even closer. Whether we’re in tech connections, conditioning or at cross country practice, Emily and I always find ways to make each other laugh and have fun. Being with Emily brings out my happy, joking and enthusiastic side, and there are few other friends I would like to be with.

I am amazed at how dedicated she is to improving the lives of not only humans, but all the creatures of this earth. Not just the creatures of the earth, the earth itself as well. She has the compassion for others and animals that I will probably never see as present in anyone else. She is Emily Martin. She is a friend, a comedian, a philanthropist, a sister, a daughter, a runner. And a person I will miss a lot.”

Marina Kovic, South Whidbey High School student

“I am her neighbor (for 11 years), her friend, and have had the immense pleasure of watching Emily grow up.

She is smart as a whip, kind, funny, generous, caring, thoughtful, creative. She is able to commit herself to causes she believes in and follow through on that commitment with meaningful action.

I particularly enjoy watching her with her youngest sister, who is very shy. She has a huge, tender heart. I love to watch her with animals — she loves them very much and has a real skill with them.

Emily has helped me take care of my horses and dogs since she was 10.

I have always felt totally confident in her reliability, and have asked her to care for my animals when I traveled.”

Christine Nyburg, graphic designer

“Emily Martin is an exceptionally unique, honest and generous person. She is unafraid to be who she is, and has earned immense respect for being so. She has a genuine concern for the well-being of those closest to her. Emily has a high regard and respect for nature and for animals. It doesn’t matter if we are running the hardest long- distance run, Emily never fails to stop and pick off the slug on the middle of the track so he won’t be smashed.

She wears bright colors, with eccentric combinations of patterns.

Emily is an amazing athlete with such discipline. She has the ability to push herself even at the most trying moments, which I would also say she does in life. She is an inspiration, because she has no fear of being different, she is as honest with everyone else as she is with herself. She is dimensional, surprising, humorous, strong and determined.

Emily has participated in eight seasons of running, which shows great commitment to her teammates, to her coaches and to herself. She is a great storyteller, a loving, joking and generous sister and a constant bright and sunny light in the world.”

Taya Jae, SWHS student

“Emily Rose is a joyful, fun presence and a delight to be around.

She sets a great example for her sisters and friends and classmates, showing that you can be true to your ideals and passions, teaching through example.

Although she often wears her heart on her sleeve, she is tough enough to work for change, usually with humor and self-deprecation. She radiates sunshine, but she is always willing to work hard to accomplish her goals.”

Greg Martin, Emily’s dad

“I’ve known Emily for quite a few years; we’ve run cross country together for the last six years and have become very good friends.

She is an incredibly unique person, and her selfless nature would be unbelievable if you didn’t know her. I think her nine rescued cats would agree.

Recently we both interviewed for a local scholarship, and one of the questions was about when we became interested in conservation. Her answer was that at age 7 she sent a letter and pictures pleading for a neighbor not to clear-cut his land. I’m pretty sure she has a lot more stories like that I haven’t heard — that’s just the type of person she is.”

Ben Saari, SWHS student

“Emily has been a great mentor and role model for the young distance runners in both the cross country and track and field programs during the last four years.

She is an extremely hard worker who leads by example and is a fierce competitor, but Emily will be remembered most for her sportsmanship, work ethic, great attitude and most importantly, her colorful running outfits.”

Doug Fulton, Head Cross Country/Track & Field Coach, Science Teacher at SWHS

“She is mindful of her obligation to the community in many ways! Last year she had a community drive for Pasado’s. She collected plastic water bottles and fashioned them onto little ‘piggy’ banks. She distributed these all around the Langley area. After a reasonable time, she collected the ‘banks,’ counted the money and sent it off to Pasado’s. They were so impressed with her efforts that they invited her to their farm and gave her a special personal tour of the facilities! She also rescues ‘abandoned’ animals in the area.”

Stella and Chuck Walker, grandparents

“Emily is a bright light in the world, very articulate, wise beyond her years and passionate with her nurturing. I am and have been a substitute teacher at South Whidbey High School the past 17 years. Emily is no doubt going on to make the world a much better place, whether she’s involved with the environment, teaching or raising children of her own. She has such a positive worldly viewpoint, you forget she’s in high school.

Emily, much love to you. I will miss you and our passionate discussions about whatever we thought was important that day.”

Amber Manning, South Whidbey teacher

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