Bill and Joanna Martyak and their friends are always in a race to help others.
For years, the Martyaks, of the Elton area, enjoyed running in charitable events in the area.
When Bill Martyak, a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 56th Stryker Brigade, went to serve in Iraq in 2008, that didn’t slow Joanna Martyak down. She continued to run in the races on her own.
Their friends, however, didn’t want to see that happen. The friends joined her during those races with Bill Martyak joining them in spirit by running in Baghdad at the same time as the race back home.
When Bill Martyak returned home after spending a year in Baghdad as a physician assistant, he joined his wife and their eight friends in their newfound practice.
The 10 then decided to help the nation’s warriors injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by running in a 13-mile, obstacle-laden race April 28 in the Poconos.
Called the Tough Mudder, the event raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that helps wounded veterans to rebuild their lives.
The Martyaks and their friends – Lori and Tony DiPaola, Mike and Tonya Naglic, Nicole and Bryan Arrington, and Shane Valko and Kelli Clark – raised money for the Poconos event by organizing a 5K race April 7 in St. Michael.
“It was great,” Joanna Martyak said, adding that the St. Michael event raised $2,200 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
There were 150 participants who ran through the historic district of St. Michael and to the nearby Johnstown Flood National Memorial, she said.
They had a great sponsor, Smiley’s Place, St. Michael, and many businesses and individuals donated tons of prizes for the participants, she said.
“We hope to hold the event each year to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project,” she said.
The Martyaks and their friends believe it’s important to help the wounded veterans.
“With my husband serving in Iraq as a physician assistant, he saw firsthand what our soldiers go through and how they risk their lives to keep our country safe,” said Joanna Martyak, an assistant director for the donor recruitment department of the American Red Cross Blood Services, Greater Alleghenies Region.
“I can’t put into words what we owe the men and women for protecting us.
“The least we can do is support an organization like the Wounded Warrior Project, which is helping wounded veterans and their families.”
She is thankful for her friends who gave her plenty of support while her husband was in Iraq.
She said their friends included her and her children – Jude, 9, Nina, 6, and Laura, 4, – in everything they did.
“They picked up the pieces,” she said. “They were there.”
She said she and her children also received never-ending support from the community while her husband was serving.
Bill Martyak, a physician assistant with the Conemaugh Physician Group’s Rural Health Clinic in New Paris, said some of the wounded soldiers he cared for in Iraq are utilizing the services of the Wounded Warrior Project.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said about helping the Wounded Warrior Project. “I’m proud to serve those who have served.”
For their efforts at spearheading the effort to raise funds to help wounded warriors, the Martyaks are the Persons of the Week.
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