A big heart powers his moving muscles ride

Like Clark Kent, upon first encounter Keith Martin doesn’t appear to be a super hero. It is only upon reflecting on his accomplishments that you realize how special he is.

The 24-year old from Montreal, Quebec graduates this month from the Engineering Physics program. During his time at UBC, he’s acquired an impressive résumé working on co-op terms for Bombardier Aerospace, General Hydrogen, Tri-Y Technologies and Ballard Power Systems. He even has U.S. and international patents pending for his work on a fuel cell seal design with Ballard Power Systems.

Martin is a founding member of the Emerging Leaders of UBC club and has held five executive positions within Sigma Chi Fraternity. He’s earned numerous industry awards including the British Columbia Technology Industry Association’s Technology Scholarship, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia’s (APEGBC) BC Hydro Scholarship and the APEGBC MAPS Scholarship three consecutive years. He is also a member of the Golden Key Honour Society.

But what sets Martin apart is not his ability to run faster than a speeding bullet while carrying a flame—although he was an Olympic torchbearer this winter—or Storm the Wall in a single bound, or his résumé. What sets him apart as a super man is the effect he has on others.

“It’s a pretty special feeling to inspire people, to make a difference in their lives, to feel we made an impact through our actions,” says Martin.

During the summer of 2008 Martin rode his bike across Canada to increase awareness and fundraise for muscular dystrophy, a condition he has.

Along with his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers Michael McDonald and Patrick Cuthbert (BASc ’08) and two other friends, Jonathan Taves and Brian Sprague, the “Flying Five” raised $200,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

As part of the fundraising effort, Martin wrote The Flying Five: The Odyssey of the Moving Muscles Ride (Flying Five Press) detailing the 7,800 km journey. It chronicles the 85-day journey beginning with a ceremonial dip in the Pacific and ending with a shot of screech in the Atlantic, sublimely and elegantly describing the geography and culture of the nation.

The story is dedicated to the thousands of Canadians who live with muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular disorders.

“My hope is that this story will help them and their families to better cope and encourage them to strive towards goals that might otherwise seem out of reach,” says Martin.

During Martin’s second year at UBC, he was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a muscle-deteriorating genetic condition. The condition presents itself by progressive weakness of facial, shoulder and upper-arm muscles, and affects balance.

“There have been many times when I struggled to cope with the realization that my body was not going to function how I wanted it to,” says Martin. “Not only did I see this trip as a way for me to deal with my affliction but I wanted to be able to turn it into something positive and help others. The knowledge that confronting my ailment could inspire not only others with the disorder, but anyone who would learn about the ride, was a huge motivator for me.”

The group faced many highs and lows along the journey, the worst being two weeks of headwinds on the Prairies; one day was so bad, they rode only 60 kilometers, averaging 12 kilometers per hour.

A highpoint of the journey for Martin was a homecoming in summer community Metis Beach, Quebec—complete with fire engine escorts, ringing church bells and about 300 people cheering them on.

“I’m proud that we set a goal and we accomplished it—exceeded it,” says Martin.

He refers to both the bike ride and the fundraising goal. In addition to the grueling physical endeavor, Martin engineered a significant fundraising campaign—sending letters to friends, family and corporate sponsors, creating a website, purchasing equipment and inspiring people to give money.

After the successful effort, Martin was named a Muscular Dystrophy Canada National Ambassador, has been a keynote speaker at two conferences, and received the Michel Louvain award as Client of the Year.

One young fan wrote to him, “I truly think meeting you was way better than meeting a celebrity. It makes me realize that normal people can make a difference.”

Martin shares the secret of his success: “I focus on what I can do instead of what I cannot,” he says.

Visit the moving muscles website at: www.movingmusclesride.ca.

To discover more Faculty of Applied Science rising stars, visit: www.apsc.ubc.ca/stars/congregation10.