Grayling resident is real life superhero for hurricane victims
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Affectionately known as “Small Paul” Martin in the community, the Grayling resident is showcasing a big heart for those impacted by Hurricane Irma in Florida – sometimes in the likeness of the superhero Spider-Man.
Hurricane Irma pummeled the State of Florida in September, with winds speeds reaching 185 miles per hour. The fourth costliest hurricane on record, Irma caused over $65 billion in damages.
Martin received a call if he was willing to come down to help with the hurricane recovery. He was granted a leave of absence from his employer, Woodland Creek, a business which manufactures exotic furniture.
“It was long as I needed, he said, so off I went,” Martin said.
Martin traveled to Florida in 2004 to help with the recovery from Hurricane Charley.
“I ended up doing Charley for nearly two years, flying back and forth every two weeks,” Martin said.
Martin is among four Grayling-area residents who self-contract for the removal of damaged trees in areas impacted by Hurricane Irma.
The group works hand-in-hand with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) volunteers, taking food and supplies into areas where tree removal is needed.
Over 22 days, the group has completed 40 jobs.
“It’s all word of mouth as far as the work we do,” Martin said.
The crew often gets approached at gas stations and other businesses from residents inquiring if they are for hire or are heading into certain areas.
“It’s crazy how it just materializes,” Martin said.
While in areas cutting down damaged trees, the crew will take on some jobs on neighboring properties for people who can’t afford to pay them.
“I am getting paid, but we do a lot of work that we don’t get a dollar for,” Martin said. “We believe in good karma. Nine times out of 10, if you help that person out, then they know someone else who needs work done.”
Unprepared for the hot and humid weather, Martin went shopping at a Target store to buy some shorts. He came across a display of superhero costumes, which prompted him to buy a Spider-Man costume, and he wore it out of the store.
On job sites, Martin sneaks off and puts on the costume. He then climbs up a tree or on a lift to saw the trees and limbs.
“The kids just ate it up,” Martin said. “It’s kind of funny seeking a guy who is five foot three with a chainsaw and Spider-Man suit climbing a tree.”
Martin said that the costume also brings some lightheartedness to Florida residents devastated by the hurricane.
“With these peoples’ lives being turned upside down, a little bit of humor goes a long way with them,” Martin said. “Even the older people got a kick out of it.”
Photos of Martin have been aired on NBC’s The Today Show. CBS stations, including northern Michigan 9&10 News, picked up the story last week.
Prior to buying the costume, Martin said he had no particular interest in Spider-Man.
“Spider-Man climbs and I have been a tree climber for years,” Martin said. “It was just a random thought that ended up going viral.”
Martin is known for his antics to get a chuckle from people he is around.
“I love to make people laugh,” Martin said. “I get a bigger kick out of that than anything.”
Helping Florida residents recover from Hurricane Irma is also part of a personal recovery for Martin, age 43. Four years ago, a tire from a piece of logging equipment landed on his arm, which he almost lost.
“There were two years where I couldn’t do absolutely anything with my arm,” Martin said.
Doctors declared that Martin was permanently disabled. Through his perseverance, Martin went through rehabilitation, stopped taking medications, and went off receiving aid for his disability.
“I just kept pushing it harder and harder every day,” he said. “I’m back to being 100 percent.”
Martin said his mother, Janet Small, and children Jonathan, a sophomore at Central Michigan University who is on the wrestling team, Brianna, a junior at Grayling High School on the cross country team, and Loren, age 10, drove him to get better.
“They were a big incentive,” he said.
The latest stint in Florida was the first time Martin has handled a chainsaw since the accident.
“It was a test to see where I was at,” he said. “After the first couple of days, I could barely move my arm. It’s just getting stronger and stronger and I’m still doing it.”
Martin graduated from Grayling High School in 1994. He was enrolled at Kalkaska High School, and was on track to graduate there, when the school district closed early due to lack in operating funds.
“They were the first school in the nation to just shut their doors in March,” he said.
Martin opted to come to Grayling since his mother had worked in the community for several years.
“I ended meeting a lot friends and became a Grayling guy,” Martin said.
Martin mentored members on Grayling High School’s wrestling team because he was no longer eligible to wrestle since he participated in the sport for four years.
“I did two senior years, because I only had to do a semester, but they ended up letting me stay the whole year,” he said.
Martin went on to become a mixed martial arts fighter, participating in 53 fights across the nation. He ended his career at the age of 35 when his body could no longer take the pounding and younger fighters entered the sport as it gained popularity.
“Father time just caught up with me,” he said. “I wanted to end on a good note, so I did.”
Martin said he will help out with the hurricane recovery in Florida as long as he is needed.
“I get more gratification just knowing I am helping somebody,” Martin said.