Martin Thiele uses the fight of his life to inspire others

Martin Thiele needs a break.

After answering a pair of questions via text message, the 18-year-old former Hardaway High student asks to complete the interview later so that he can take a nap.

The naps come more frequently now for Martin. Everyday tasks that most take for granted wear his body down to a point where staying awake is no longer an option.

He leaves the conversation and is quiet for the rest of the day. At 11:45 the next morning, he sends a message.

"I can finish those questions now," he writes, as if declaring without a doubt that he finishes what he starts.

And for the next hour, that's what he does. He answers questions about himself, his education, his experiences and his outlook on a life that will be cut short sooner rather than later. There is no sign of regret in his words, just an outlook at odds with the situation he's found himself in over the last four years.

Martin was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma on Feb. 14, 2011. It's a rare form of cancer that develops in the body's skeletal muscles. Of the four stages of cancer, Martin has received the worst prognosis. He is stage IV, meaning treatments will no longer make an impact on the disease.

And yet, Martin's spirit has gone untouched.

When faced with the prospect of dying, his focus on his studies at Hardaway improved.

And when he was forced to travel for treatments and miss days and weeks and months at a time, he did his best to keep up on his own.

When he could no longer attend school because of problems with his immune system, he set his mind to earning his graduate-equivalency diploma, which he did Jan. 22.

"My cancer had stopped me from completing high school regularly," Martin wrote in a text message. "I wasn't going to let it take everything away."

It's a calm resolve that his mother, Christy Armentrout, has become familiar with over the years. He refuses pity, she says, and responds in the same manner every time she tries to offer help.

"'I got this,'" she says. "That's his thing when someone wants to help. 'I got this.'"

Instead, the assistance has gone the opposite direction. Those who have come in contact with Martin say they go into it with the intention of lifting him up, but they're the ones who walk away changed.

Taking a ride

Or ride away, in the case of Country's Barbecue co-owner Scott Ressmeyer.

Ressmeyer, an avid motorcycle rider, started Scott's Ride for Miracles in 2009 to commemorate his 50th birthday.

The cross-country event was meant to benefit the Children's Miracle Network at Midtown Medical Center.

Now in its final year, the group, which includes 31 riders, is on track to reach its $1 million goal.

Ressmeyer came across Martin for the first time three years ago, when a group of the riders were on the pediatrics floor at Midtown Medical Center. Martin, an outgoing young teen at the time, was the one to seek out Ressmeyer, not the other way around.

"We had on our dusters and our hats, and he was like, 'Who are those guys?' " Ressmeyer said with a laugh. "So he sought us out."

They hit it off from the start, and Ressmeyer made the offer for Martin to participate in one of their rides from Macon back to Columbus. He was named an official Miracle Rider and rode across the northwest in 2014, flying out to meet the team in Oregon and riding on the back of a motorcycle through Washington, Idaho and Montana.

It was a 482-mile drive that Martin will never forget.

"Boy, was that a relief when we got to the hotel," Martin joked. "The ride and experience itself was one of my favorites of my lifetime."

Ressmeyer said that the area they were traveling is such a nice part of the country, he wanted to give the gift of experiencing it to Martin.

"But he gave us a bigger gift," Ressmeyer said. "His outlook is incredible. He's always got a million-dollar grin. All the riders get to post why they want to ride on our blog. When he submitted his, it was about other people. He was talking about making a difference in other lives who have to experience this as well."

He means a lot to the kids at the clinic, his mom explains.

"He shows hope," she said. "That's the main thing. There is hope. It may hurt for a little bit right now, but it's going to get better."

Ressmeyer and 21 other riders will set out on their final ride May 1, journeying across the country and returning May 22.

"And we'll be thinking about Martin the whole way," Ressmeyer said.

Playing for a cause

Northside High volleyball coach Lindsay Johnson met Martin last December at a Christmas party for the Oncology and Hematology Center of Columbus.

He, along with the other 35-40 children in the pediatrics center, instantly made an impact.

"I would have never known that we even had a clinic, much less that we had that many children who were sick," she said.

But she saw a desire in Martin and the others to do things that others take for granted on a daily basis.

Like walking or running. Or playing volleyball.

And so began the development of the first ever Ace Out Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders tournament, to be hosted by Northside High on May 2. The tournament will raise money for activities supplies for children at the clinic and, she hopes, raise awareness of the clinic's existence.

People don't realize, she said, how much those activities mean to young individuals faced with chemotherapy and radiation treatment for hours at a time.

"Just that little bit is enough to keep them going," Johnson said. "Something so simple as picking out a Band-Aid. That's the highlight of their day."

And the awareness is just as important.

"The staff, the nurses and the doctors -- they're all involved in these kids' lives," said Martin's mother.

"They'll sit down to talk with them and do crafts with them and get their minds off of treatment. When Martin was first diagnosed, we had to go to Augusta for treatment. He was separated from his twin and the rest of his family and friends. He kind of closed up. It was like -- am I forgotten? We don't want them to feel forgotten just because they're sick. They're important."

Martin has a twin brother, Mason, and a step-sister, Christa Armentrout. His father and step mother, Chris and Christie Thiele, and step-father, Travis Armentrout, also provide a support system for Martin.

A number of public figures around the community have already registered to participate in the tournament. The Columbus State University men's basketball team, the Columbus Cottonmouths and Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr will all be involved.

Hardaway basketball coach Kendall Mills knew Martin from school, and his team, which comprises of fellow Hardaway coaches and administrators, is playing for its former student.

"Some other team had come up with a name, Lindsay told me, and I texted back and said, 'Well we're Martin's Maniacs,' " Mills said with a laugh. "And that was it. It was done."

"He laughed when he heard," Armentrout said. "He said, 'That is awesome.' They told him at the clinic, and he had just received some really bad news from the doctor. Even though you may get some bad news, you're always given something to look forward to."

Martin is looking forward to the volleyball tournament. He hopes he can attend, but, as with everything, it depends on his health at the time.

His journey is nearly over.

One day soon, he will slip away for one of his naps and peacefully ride away.

Christy Armentrout wants people to know that her son's fight can still mean a lot for others, even if he is unable to win it himself.

"Martin's journey is coming to an end," she said. "There is not a cure for rhabdo. But there is still hope that there may be a cure one day. You may not have a sick child right now. But what if? What if it ever happens? I had no clue. My boys were healthy, and then -- bam -- we got faced with it. And it hit us hard. It could affect you. It could affect your family. If everyone can chip in for our hometown, it can help our future here."

Martin, always a beacon for the younger children around him at the clinic as well as the adults in his life, passes along a lesson many individuals fail to learn.

"When you fight something like this, you fight to win," he writes. "You take it to however far you need to. My first shirt, on the back, it says: 'Stay strong, stay positive, and never give up.' "

He's still got this.

How to help

What: Ace Out Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders volleyball tournament

When: May 2

Where: Northside High

Who: Open to all public (regardless of skill level)

Cost: $200 per team (6 player minimum/10 player maximum); $5 per child (placed on team in their age group)

Other: There will be children’s, non-competitive and competitive divisions. A cash prize of $250 will be awarded to non-competitive champion and $500 to competitive champion. All other proceeds will benefit the Oncology and Hematology Center of Columbus. To register, email aceoutpediatriccancer@gmail.com.