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Meet 2023 Ambassador Martha: A Legacy of Courage, Compassion, and Conviction

February 3, 2023
6 min read
Photo of Martha

For seven years, #TeamMartha was the rallying cry of a devoted community — family, friends, teammates, caregivers and even those who learned of her story from afar — who supported Martha Riedel in her battle with cancer. It symbolizes a life lived with courage, determination, and relentless zeal for all that she loved. It’s who Martha was.

From an early age, Martha was athletic and adventurous. Naturally creative and curious, she was a talented artist and a lifelong learner. But what she loved most fiercely was her family — her parents Ned and Margaret, her older brothers Ian and Sean, her twin sister Annie, and her dogs Scruffy and Bean. The bonds that held them together were sacred.

Martha and her family

Martha and her family on her Make-A-Wish trip to the Galapagos

It was just like Martha to endure a pain in her hip for four months without complaint. But it was very serious, and in August 2015 — on her second day of eighth grade — she was diagnosed with metastatic Ewing sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of bone and soft tissue cancer in her pelvis.

Her attitude was trademark Martha: “I’m not sick. This is just something I have to take care of.”

Not even an eight-month protocol of chemotherapy and radiation could slow her down. There were reported sightings of Martha riding her IV cart through the hospital like a scooter. She often escaped to Lake Michigan between treatments where she would paddle board along the shore with her faithful pup Scruffy. And when quarantined in the hospital with shingles, she refused to give up her bike training, setting up a turbo trainer in her room. Martha just kept doing life.

Martha paddle boarding with her dog, Scruffy

Martha paddle boarding with her dog, Scruffy

In April 2016 she was declared NED — no evidence of disease. Two months later she ran a 10K race in Boulder. That summer she rode in her first of five Courage Classics, a bike ride fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation. As many can attest, the ride is not for the faint of heart — riding over 100 miles through the Rocky Mountains in two days! Martha had always loved riding mountain bikes, but the Courage Classic sparked something in her. She loved the challenge, and the mission resonated deeply with her. “I’m thinking about all the kids who are in the hospital right now and can’t be riding their bikes,” she said. “And, I don’t like to quit.” She started high school in August 2016 and joined the mountain bike team as a freshman. She had an awesome year full of new experiences, new friends, and new discoveries — ceramics, in particular.

Martha finishing a high school mountain bike race

Martha finishing the Colorado League Steamboat Race

A month later, she relapsed with metastasis in her lungs. Throughout her treatment the next year, she competed in every race with her high school mountain bike team. In recognition of her grit and determination, Martha was awarded the Colorado League Trail Blazer Award.

Two months later, in October 2017, St. Baldrick’s invited Martha to testify during a Capitol Hill briefing on using the immune system to attack cancer. “Martha sat on a panel next to some of the top immunotherapy experts in the country,” said Becky Chapman Weaver, Chief Mission & Development Officer at St. Baldrick’s. “I could hardly believe how articulate and poised she was, and I think she was only 15. She captured the attention of the entire room as she spoke about her life — not just her cancer, but her LIFE. While the researchers spoke about science and progress, it was Martha who made everyone see the urgency of it all, because she pointed out that this therapy still wasn’t available for kids like her.”

Martha with her mom, Margaret, twin sister, Annie, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet

Martha with her mom, Margaret, twin sister, Annie, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet

Martha’s testimony on Capitol Hill inspired anonymous donors to fund a $1 million St. Baldrick’s grant specifically to find a cure for Ewing sarcoma. In early 2020, Martha traveled to Vancouver with her parents, twin sister and a dear aunt and uncle to meet Dr. Poul Sorensen, who was awarded this three-year research grant. The project initially was called Martha’s BEST (Better Ewing Sarcoma Treatment) grant. And even though the project was funded in her honor, Martha’s thoughts were once again focused on others in need. She insisted it be called Martha’s BEST Grant For All, and it holds great promise for developing a new treatment for Ewing sarcoma. Researchers are working on a drug candidate that, when tested in models, is far stronger than the current FDA approved drugs in trials for Ewing sarcoma.

Martha spent 2018 trying a variety of different therapies and novel medicines to keep the cancer under control. In July 2018, after surgery to remove a tumor in her lung, she rode in her third Courage Classic.

In May 2019, Martha relapsed once again with tumors in her lymph nodes near her heart. Yet despite this setback, she still thought of others before herself. She chose to participate in clinical trials because she believed what didn’t work for her might pave the way for someone else.

She raced mountain bikes for her high school team all four years and finished every race she entered, even when undergoing treatment, earning a legacy rider award. She simply refused to let cancer define her.

True to form, Martha amazed everyone with her strength and resilience.

On March 17, 2022, Martha was the keynote speaker at the St. Baldrick’s event at her alma mater, Boulder High School. Less than a month later, she passed away on April 15, 2022, surrounded by her family and the community who loved her.

There will never be another Martha. She defied cancer and wasted no time being sick. She surfed in San Diego and Hawaii and swam with sharks in the Galapagos Islands. She was an accomplished potter and a leader in the arts community, creating beautiful work with her hands. She loved delicious food and had a passion for traveling and cooking.

Martha on a hike in Moab, Utah, with her arms stretched above her head

Martha hiking in Moab, Utah

Yet it was her selflessness and compassion for others that truly defined Martha. Throughout her journey, she dedicated time and energy to finding better treatments and cures for childhood cancer. She was so grateful for the care she received and was always eager to give back through fundraising, challenging herself each time to do more.

To her, it was always about others.

Martha leaves a legacy of courage, compassion and conviction that will “ride on” through everyone and everything she deeply loved.

She will always be remembered: #ForeverMarthaStrong.

 Honor Martha’s memory with a donation supporting research into better treatments for kids with cancer.