Some random musings on my adventures in microgravity, plasma physics, and science education
Friday, June 17, 2011
Miguel Martinez was my hero
Miguel A. Martinez of Kendall Park, NJ was born on September 28, 1919 and passed away on Thursday, March 17, 2011, he was 91. He worked at the Plasma Physics Lab starting in 1960 until his retirement in 1985 as an electronics technician. He was also my hero.
Miguel was not a physicist, he was not a science educator. Miguel was a soccer player and I first met him on the field. That's the only place I met him and that's the last place I ever saw him just this past winter when he was 91. That's right, Miguel played until just a few months before he died and he played when he was 70, 80, and 90 years old. Imagine that. I'm in my 40's and I just finished playing this afternoon and the first thing I did when I was done was take some ibuprofen. Miguel was just about twice my age and still played.
There has been a soccer game at PPPL since the early 1970's. Players come from all around the area Monday/Wednesday/Friday to play a game of pick-up soccer for an hour or so at lunch. Sometimes we play with as many as 10 to a side, other times as few as 3 to a side. The skill level varies, the point is to get some exercise and to have some fun. We play with small nets, no slide tackling, no set teams, just divide everyone up as equally as possible. The age level also varies. In the summer, high school interns join us along with undergraduates. Graduate students filter in and out through the years before they move on to new jobs. The rest of us work full time somewhere in the area. Artists, computer scientists, professors, and so on. Quite honestly, I have no idea what most of my fellow players do for a living. Miguel was the oldest and not by a few years. Our next oldest player just turned 60. That means that Miguel was 30 years older than the next player. 30 years!
By the time I started playing in the 1990's, Miguel was in his 70's and a goalie. By the time he was in his 80's I suppose you could say he started slowing down. We did put in the "Miguel Rules." No hard shots right at him and if he touched the ball it was considered a save. Even then, every once in a while Miguel would come out of the net and dribble up field. Sometimes he would even talk trash and let us know that he was bored with stopping the easy shots on goal. This continued into his 90s. My father is 89 and in reasonably good health for his age but he uses a walker to get around. I just can't get my mind around the fact that Miguel was older than my father and a soccer player. It truly is amazing.
Sometimes Miguel brought with him tomatoes from his garden, sometimes he brought a small flask of wine. But always he brought his grace, his humor, his gentile nature, and his incredible soccer skills. That's part of the reason why I considered him a hero. The rest was that he was a weekly example of how to live. Three times per week I got a chance to see the twinkle in his eye and I had a chance to do something with him that we both love. He never complained about getting old, he never complained about anything at all. He was there for the beauty of the game of soccer and for the beauty of the game of life. In a cultural where we idolize celebrity and wealth, Miguel had neither. Instead, for an hour or so, he simply was a reminder of what it means to truly live one's life to the fullest. I will miss him, but I will always remember him until the last time I lace on my own pair of soccer cleats.
I'm sure you can pick out Miguel, he was in his 80's when this photo was taken.
I'm the Head of Science Education for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and a Lecturer in the Writing Program at Princeton University. When I can, I spend summers in microgravity, 22 seconds at a time.