By Hannah Wallace
Robert Martini talks about fatherhood in terms of “advocacy.”
The 37-year-old Siesta lifeguard and his wife, Jill, have a 7-year-old daughter, Lyla, as well as a 4-year-old son, Maverick, who is on the autism spectrum. Whether it’s talking teachers about Maverick’s needs or educating strangers about his behavior, Martini is an active advocate on behalf of his child.
This summer, his advocacy took the form of a 50-kilometer fund-raising run to bring ADA-compliant swings to Sarasota County parks.
“You should always be an advocate for your child,” he said. “You’re looking out for their best interests. I might seem like I’m being a difficult parent asking for these things, but I’m advocating for my son because he can’t advocate for himself.”
On his days off, Martini likes to take his children to local playgrounds. But he quickly realized that Maverick was struggling with the swings, when Lyla had not.
Traditional swings require the user to grasp the chain supports and generate momentum by kicking their legs back and forth — tasks that can be difficult for children on the autism spectrum or with sensory disorders.
“As a parent, I want my children to be loved and happy,” he said. “I felt like Maverick was missing an opportunity to enjoy physical play.”
Martini went into advocacy mode. He first asked the county’s parks and rec department about adding special swings to the playgrounds. When he was told there was no budget for them, he took the fund-raising responsibilities himself.
Martini created “the Maverick Movement” to raise money for specially designed, ADA-compliant swings to be purchased and installed at four public Sarasota County park playgrounds: Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach, Blind Pass, and South Lido.
The smooth, plastic swings cradle the user and make it easier for them to be pushed by a caretaker. They’re designed for ages 2 to 15 and can support users up to 125 pounds. Martini also chose swings that could be easily installed around the parks’ existing swing sets. Each swing cost $1,114.98 with shipping and tax.
Friends and family quickly donated enough to cover the cost of two swings. To gain attention and public support for two additional swings, Martini vowed to run 50 kilometers — and to livestream the feat on Facebook.
“People like to donate money for a cause,” he said. “And their reward was watching me go through a lot of pain and suffering.”
In the end, he raised a total of $4,600.
At 4 a.m. on Aug. 8, Martini set off from Sarasota’s Trader Joe’s. He ran all the way to Venice Beach and back in 6 hours, 28 minutes, finishing around 10:30 a.m. Just more than a week later, on Aug. 14, Sarasota County hosted a dedication ceremony at Siesta Beach for the installation of the first of the swings.
Martini is well aware that by advocating on behalf of Maverick he’s also supporting parents throughout the community who are similarly trying to give their children the best possible experiences. He wants those parents to know that they’re not alone.
“My son is an amazing, handsome child, and he’s happy and healthy and that’s all I can really ask for,” Martini said. “My goal is simply to be the best father and friend for him that I can be.”