The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)

Mission for ex-Jets star Lyons is granting ill kids’ wishes

- By Dennis Waszak Jr.

NEW YORK (AP) » Marty Lyons pauses, fights back tears and clears his throat nearly every time hementions the children who are no longer here.

The former New York Jets defensive lineman and longtime team radio analyst has seen way toomany youngsters enter his life and then die fromthe cancer and other illnesses that have robbed them — and their loved ones — of bright futures.

“I mean, these are little kids, but the pain that their families endure for the rest of their life is, sometimes it’s unbearable because there’s always going to be a missing face,” Lyons said during a telephone interview. “There’s always going to be a birthday to celebrate.”

But also so many other days to remember the lasting impacts they made in just a few short years.

“These kids that are unfortunat­ely dying at an early age are teachers in the game of life, even though they might only be 4 or 5 or 6 years old,” Lyons said. “They have a message. I remember one little girl I met, she looked at me and said, ‘ Mr. Marty, why are you crying?’

“And I couldn’t get out an answer because she said, ‘I’m going to be OK. I’ve already seen the angels.’”

Lyons has been on a mission

— 38 years and counting — to fulfill the wishes of children between the ages of 3 and 17 who have been diagnosed with a terminal or life-threatenin­g illness. He started theMarty Lyons Foundation in 1982 and the nonprofit has granted over 8,000 wishes and raised over $ 35 million while growing to 10 chapters in 13 states.

The 63-year- old former football star also has a new book called, “IfTheseWal­ls Could Talk: Stories From The New York Jets Sideline, Locker Room and Press Box.” Co-authored by Lou Sahadi, the book includes tales from Lyons’ playing days at Alabama and then as a member of the “New York Sack Exchange” with the Jets, along with observatio­ns from his 19 years as a radio broadcaste­r. It’s also packed with emotional

stories about the young children he has met along the way.

“I wanted to make sure that the readers understood that there was more to me than being a football player,” said Lyons, a member of the Jets’ ring of honor. “Certainly, I appreciate it andI’mvery humbled and honored to be a part of the Jets organizati­on, and I loved every minute of it. But there is nothing more important than me telling crossover stories about kids that have lost their lives at anearly agebecause of cancer.”

Lyons signed over all of the proceeds he gets from the book directly to his foundation, which was started after themost emotionall­y tough week of his life.

His oldest sonRockywa­s born onMarch 4, 1982, and Marty’s father wasmaking plans to fly to New York to meet his grandson. Leo Lyons never made the trip, dying at 58 of a heart attack

on March 8. While attending his father’s wake in Florida two days later, Lyons called home and received the news that Keith, his little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, died of leukemia just twomonths shy of his sixth birthday.

“So, in a matter of six days, I was challenged,” Lyons recalled. “I kept askingmyse­lf, what amI doing wrong in life? Why would God do this tome? And the more I asked why me, the more I learned to understand Iwas actually saying, why not somebody else?”

But Lyons didn’t want anyone to feel the pain he was experienci­ng. So he approached Jets teammate Ken Schroy about what he could do tomakemore of a difference.

From there, the Marty Lyons Foundation was born, and the two continue to brighten young children’s days by granting wishes — a visit to Disney World, celebrity meetand-greets,

a computer, a swimming pool — and being there for their families during the darkest of times.

“He takes that passion from his playing days and switched it to a passion for the children,” said Schroy, a former safety who was Lyons’ Jets teammate from 1979- 84. “It’s amazing to see him interact with so many children. We’ve been to so many hospitals with children fighting for their lives. Granting the wishes was the easy part. Helping themfight the diseasemov­ing forward was tough.

“And Marty, he just wears his heart on his sleeve. He always did. He’s just an amazing man.”

The coronaviru­s pandemic has hampered the Marty Lyons Foundation’s abilities to grant as many wishes as it usually does. It’s holding a virtual silent auction through its site from Nov. 27-Dec. 11 to help raise funds to fulfill more wishes.

 ?? KATHY WILLENS - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2013, file photo, Marty Lyons speaks as he is inducted into the New York Jets’ Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony of the team’s NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in East Rutherford, N.J.
KATHY WILLENS - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2013, file photo, Marty Lyons speaks as he is inducted into the New York Jets’ Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony of the team’s NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in East Rutherford, N.J.

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