Mother of Fallen Hero Inspired by Girls on the Run

It was in the early hours of April 22 when Wright Elementary School Principal Maria Marin drove to the Tucson Medical Center campus to watch some of her students participate in a 5k run to build empowerment among girls.

Exactly 26 years before, Marin had taken that same route when she came to TMC to deliver her son, Martin Lugo.

Martin, an Army Ranger sergeant, was killed in action in Afghanistan August 2010, his sixth combat deployment. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for saving the lives of several squad members in the assault that left him mortally wounded.

That drive to TMC last month, she said, was difficult – not only because Martin wasn’t there to celebrate his 26th birthday, but because one of the hobbies they shared was running. The two would travel to Michigan or Northern California to run together. They ran the P.F. Chang’s 26-mile marathon together in 2004. It was their time to connect and bond.

“That morning was very bittersweet,” she recalled. “I always heard that word, but I had never experienced it until I lost my son.”

As she watched the girls cross the finish line, though, her spirits shifted.

“This is totally genuine: Watching the girls and their coaches and parents all celebrating that accomplishment, it just helped me to connect again with that sense of accomplishment. I really feel that was by design. That day, that event, at that place – I don’t think it was an accident.”

Four years ago, Marin accepted an offer for her midtown school to participate in Girls on the Run. The selling point for her was the fact the program is more than a running club. Girls, ranging from third through fifth grade, also are exposed to a curriculum that builds self-esteem and helps them respond to peer pressure or deal with peer conflicts in healthy ways.

The students at her school have steep challenges to overcome, she said, noting 98 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. On average, 18 languages are represented among the student body, with many students coming to Tucson as refugees.

Some of the girls come from countries where women are oppressed, she said, noting there are also pressures from American society. “Girls learn there is a certain image of what women have to look like to fit a definition of beauty, and it’s easy for them to believe if they don’t fit this mold, they won’t count. It’s so important for them to have access to something that allows them to say: I can do this. I can succeed.”

The running element was a draw for her as well.

Census data shows the feeder neighborhood to the school is comprised of 70 percent rental properties, she said, so many students live in homes where yards aren’t available for play. With so many families in poverty, students don’t have a lot of access to extracurricular activities.

Marin got her first pair of jogging shoes in the sixth grade, from her older brother. For years to come, those runs sustained her through adolescent yearnings for more attention, as the second-youngest in a family of seven. They sustained her through difficult tests and reports in high school and college. They sustained her through a marital breakup. She wanted girls to have that outlet.

She’s seen the changes in her students.

“The teachers always say something like this: ‘She really believes she can do it. It might be challenging for her, she might say it’s tough, but she doesn’t give up. She takes a different tack until she gets it done.’”

Marin said running helps develop that mentality. “At first, they see how far the distance is, and it seems like a long, long way and they won’t be able to do it. But with training and practice and partnership, they find they can take two more steps than they did last time. And the next time, it’s 10 steps. And pretty soon, you’ve reached a milestone and they can look back and say, ‘I can do anything.’”

She saw that evolution in her own son as he became a man, and has fond memories of running with Martin. She groans about hearing him sing “Shake it Like a Salt Shaker” during that 2004 run. She laughs as she remembers running backwards, mocking him to catch up.

The two had planned to run the PF Chang’s marathon again in 2011, as an incentive to get her going again after a knee injury.

It didn’t happen the way she planned.

After his death, her friends joined her at Reid Park every Wednesday to train. She would always say something about him, whether it was sharing a letter or an anecdote. The group would pray for others. Then they would train.

When she finished the Chang’s half-marathon in the third week of January 2011, she printed his number from his inaugural run and pinned it to her sleeve so he’d be with her.

On the day of Girls on the Run, she went home and got on her treadmill. “I will run again. Maybe it won’t be long marathons anymore, but it’s not a good way to honor him by shutting down.”

Girls on the Run will have another session in the fall, with the start of a new school year.

She’ll be there to see the smiles of victory, she said.

But this time, she’ll be a running buddy.

Once again.


  1. Hope Thomas says:

    Thank you Maria for sharing your beautiful thoughts and memories about Martin.

  2. Sis ~ Rosa says:

    Bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh….
    My precious sis – Maria, God loaned Martin to you because He trusted you to raise up a valiant, brilliant, loving, Christ centered, crazy-funny special guy! Then He trusted you would impart His teachings to us on “how to” rise above great sorrow and debilitating stings of pain that life plunks at us in order to be the greatest witness that scars mean you’re healing! Yes, “Life” does get in the way of “Living” sometimes!
    Team Butterfly Effect and all Ladies & Gents: YOU are strong, kind, compassionate, and courageous! Get up, get going and remember when you are down…..look UP! May the whisper of flapping butterfly wings cause a ripple effect in you to positively impact our world as Martin did!
    Sis, your consistent dedication to better lives by educating, giving hope, sharing faith, and exhorting love has been our true example of not just having a journey, but, living in the journey! ~ mil besos y mucho mas amor!

  3. Rossana Lievanos says:

    My Dearest Maria…There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of you, and now Martin. I see Martin in Axel, my nephew who you helped so much at Carrillo. He is doing so well at Tucson High and we know that a big part of his success is the fact that you recognized he needed a teacher like Mr. Sanchez. He also runs, training for wrestling. You have touched countless lives with your insight and kindness and your students are lucky to have you. I continue to pray for you and Martin and everytime I go to THS, Axel and I go to see his picture and think about how lucky we were to have known him and to have someone like him watching over us. Thanks will never be enough…Rossana Lievanos

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