At the age of fourteen on March 15, 1967, Marty received the news that he was declared blind. Before he lost his vision, Marty grew up in a YMCA Community. His family had moved from New Hampshire to Connecticut when his father took a position as the director of the Winsted YMCA Day Camp on Highland Lake. For the first fourteen summers of his life, Marty spent at a variety of camps directed by his father including Winsted YMCA Day Camp. As a kid, being part of the Y Community was all about enjoying camping, being outdoors, swimming and boating. During his teenage years, Marty continued his love for outdoors at Oak Hill School for the Blind school and summer camps.
As an adult with a disability, the YMCA Community has been a great social experience for Marty. His positive childhood experiences with the YMCA and the supportive community of Winsted YMCA gave him the confidence to take on a life-changing challenge that led him to the Middlesex YMCA in 1974.
“During periods of my life when I did not have a job, I would go to the Winsted Y every day. My Y friends would tell me that it will all work out and something will fall into place.” – Marty
When he first got the call from his counselor that a job was available as a darkroom technician in Middletown CT at Middlesex Hospital, she expressed concern about the commute being a problem. Anyone knows Marty, knows he is positive and resilient. His response to his counselor was, “That’s not really a problem. It’s a challenge, but if that is where there is a job for me, we can figure it out.”
Not only did Marty figure it out, but he also found housing at the Middlesex YMCA in the Men's Residence on July 29, 1974.
“I only knew two people in the area. I basically only knew my way from the YMCA to my job in the darkroom as an x-ray technician at Middlesex Hospital. I chose the YMCA Men’s Residence as the closest and most convenient housing option. In the 1970s there were no other options for the disabled or the elderly that exist now.” – Marty
Living at the Y gave Marty a sense of independence and community. During his time living at the YMCA from 1974-1994, Marty was made to feel welcome and cared for by three YMCA Ceos. Herb Mayo, Frank Sumpter, and Michele Rulnick. Jane Sullivan, Anthony Grandazzo and Dave Jacobs watched out for Marty during their time as Men’s Resident Directors. Each day after work, Marty remembers enjoying the companionship and sharing laughs with front desk staff and lifeguards at the pools. Moving away from family and a familiar environment was made a bit easier because of the YMCA Community and the mindset his parents established when he and 2 of his siblings were diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa from LAURENCE-MOON-BARDET-BIEDL SYNDROME as children.
“Our parents were ahead of their time. Blind and disabled in the 60s when most people who were disabled were locked in their homes or institutionalized. Our parents sat us down on day one and said, 'You have the life you are going to have. All we will ever ask of you is to live as much of a normal life as possible. Do what you can do and be your best at it. Be as independent as you can be.’ The most important message they sent to us was that we never used our blindness as an excuse.”-Marty
As the Middlesex YMCA was here to provide housing, Marty confidently moved away from familiarity.
His mother now says, “Marty would probably not be the person he is today if he had stayed in Winsted. He took the leap of faith and moved away from family, friends and familiarity.” Marty credits his experiences at the YMCA, Middlesex Hospital, Lion’s Club, Middletown’s Committee Concerning people with disabilities and South Church for helping him find a place in the Middlesex community.
After retiring from Middlesex Hospital ten years ago, Marty continues to come daily to the YMCA to ride the bike for 30 minutes and relax in the Fit Plus Steam Room. 2019 marks Marty’s 45th year as an active member of the Middlesex YMCA. Marty has earned the respect and admiration of many Y staff who often show concern for Marty, especially whenever construction or weather may impact his safety when walking to the YMCA.
Having members like Marty Knight truly make #US a #BETTERUS. In 2018, Marty was recognized by the local Lions Club for his dedication to making Middletown an easier place to navigate for the blind. The full story can be found in this Middletown Press article: