Dec. 29, 2013
Five-year-old Kaitlynn Martin walked through the doors of the Cook Children's Child Life Zone to find football players from Middle Tennessee State University and the U.S. Naval Academy playing games with other patients of the hospital. Middle Tennessee and Navy will meet in the 11th annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Monday.
Martin caught the eye of two Navy players, offensive guard Thomas Stone and nose-guard Adrian Barnaby.
"I asked [Martin] if I could get a hug.," Barnaby said. "She looked at her mom, and her mom looked back at her and was like `Yes baby, you can give him a hug. "She came over and gave me a hug. We've been best friends from that point on."
Stone said he saw the library when he first walked in to the Child Life Zone and he asked Martin if she liked reading. Stone read three books to Martin as she sat on Barnaby's lap. They read a book about a ballerina, which was a favorite of Barnaby and Stone's because Martin told them that she wants to be a ballerina.
"I just met, probably the strongest person I've ever met in my entire life and she was all of two feet, six inches tall," Barnaby said.
The event was a humbling experience for Stone, he said. "This event really makes you appreciate the things you take for granted. It is something I'll remember forever," Stone said.
Navy offensive captain and wide receiver Matt Aiken said he wants to give back to the community. "These kids have a huge impact on us, our team and the way we will play on Monday," Aiken said.
Barnaby said he wants to stay in contact with Martin. "I'll send her a New Year's letter and a thank you card for letting me read to her," Barnaby said.
Martin's mother, Tanya said her daughter had seemed somewhat depressed in her room before the event. Martin left in the middle of the event but returned later without her IV hook up.
Barnaby and Martin were back to reading their fourth book in the green chair while the event was winding down.