Legendary Albert Martz
Adistinctive handlebar moustache, a simple baseball cap and a wonderful outlook on life were the true calling cards of legendary Niagara long-distance cyclist Albert Martz. No wonder more than 300 well-wishers attended his funeral in March of this year. He touched so many people, from coworkers in business to those he might have seen briefly and then never again, on his cross-country cycles.
Daughter Conny Hermelink shared these and other memories of her father, a man born in 1936 in West Prussia.
“His family, parents and their 10 children were separated through the trauma of war, but eventually reunited and moved to northern Germany,” she told me recently. “After completing a blacksmith apprenticeship as a young man, 18-yearold Albert and an older brother boarded a ship to Canada. With only a few dollars in his pocket and a willingness to work hard, he held several jobs until he completed his tinsmith requirements. He became well known throughout the Niagara Region as the owner and operator of a heating and airconditioning company for almost 20 years, before transitioning into a successful real estate agent. His reputation was always of one who worked hard, treated people honestly and loved to laugh.”
It was cycling, however, which would claim his enthusiasm as a man in his forties.
“He suffered from insomnia all his life,” Conny recalled. “So early each morning, it was off to Tim Hortons for coffee, a journey he quickly upgraded by means of a bicycle. Most of us might have stopped there but not my dad. At the age of 55, he went out to southern California and cycled across the American panhandle to northern Florida over a period of 27 days.”
For the rest of his life, long-distance cycling was just something he took for granted. His wife Elizabeth, who predeceased him by seven years, kept ample records from their home base.
“Regardless of where he was riding, he’d call her every night with the details of how many kilometres he’d ridden and where he was staying. She kept copious notes which I’m so fortunate to have.”
The most memorable of these long journeys was no doubt his solo cross-Canada tour in 2007 at the age of 71. Starting out from Vancouver and riding 160km a day
(or 00 miles, the classic century) he reached Halifax 41 days later, never failing to call home with updates. It meant finding a phone booth, because he never had a cellphone.
“Every year he’d do an around-the-lake ride,” recalls Conny. “Lake Erie one year, Lake Ontario the next. And on the summer solstice, the year’s longest day of sunlight, he’d see how far he could go, but 400km was his average. He cycled for the sheer enjoyment. While Albert was a longstanding member of the Niagara Freewheelers, he was not interested in racing or competing but often took part in fund-raising events, like the TD Five Boro Bike Tour in New York or the Big Move Cancer ride.”
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, however, was his neighbourhood prowling for empty liquor bottles and beer cans, which could be turned in for a few dollars at the liquor store. Riding in the early morning he’d find these discarded items, store them in a safe, somewhat hidden place along the road and then return later in his car to pick them up. The money he’d earn in a year could range from $3,000 to $5,000 and it went to a worthy cause. Albert donated this money to a special program for pastors in Cuba to buy bicycles to make their way among their often dispersed congregation.
It might even have got to the point that locals in Niagara would leave a few extra bottles by the wayside to support Albert’s tireless quest to help others.
Time and illness finally caught up with Albert in his last year. His memory was fading and he also had an undiagnosed medical issue which would claim his life.
“I finally had to take his bike away last October (2016),” Conny says. “He was having trouble remembering where he was and often had to ask for help in getting home on his bike. Nevertheless, he’d often refer to me as the person who took away his bike. It’s been calculated, however, that over his lifetime he went nearly 350,000km, or enough to get him to the moon and beyond!”
For Albert Martz, cycling was a means of rejuvenating and restoring himself. In the process he made friends and renewed acquaintances with the long-distance cycling fraternity. His cheerful attitude and zest for life left others with encounters for which he might not even have known the delight he had brought. It was an outstanding way this one man lived his life!
Niagara long-distance cyclist Albert Martz logged nearly 350,000km in his lifetime.