Robert Martini started the Maverick Movement to raise funds for ADA swings in Sarasota County parks.
One soft-spoken, cardigan-wearing television icon once said, “Play is really the work of childhood,” but until recently, some children were unable to find a job like that in Sarasota County.
When Robert Martini, a lifeguard on Siesta Key, would take his two children to the park, his 4-year-old son Maverick often couldn’t use the equipment. That is because for Maverick, who has autism spectrum disorder, there weren’t any Americans with Disabilities Act swing sets.
After seeing this, Martini decided to step in and help make Fred Rogers' famous notion a reality.
In June, he launched the Maverick Movement, an online fundraising effort to purchase five ADA-compliant swing sets for the county.
“The swings just give the children the freedom of being a kid and being happy,” Martini said. “ “That’s all we really want for our children is to be happy and be loved.”
The plastic swings feature a high back and a safety buckle so that the children can enjoy without fear of falling. The swings function for children ages 2 to 15 and can hold up to 125 pounds.
To date, the fundraising effort totals $3,043, enough for three swing sets, which will be installed Aug. 13.
County staff will install the swings at Ted Sperling Park, Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach. Two other locations the county found viable were Blind Pass Beach Park and Glebe Park, but to date, there are no swing installations planned for those locations.
Martini said there is potential for other swings to be installed in the future, depending on fundraising efforts. For now, though, he’s happy with the support he’s received from the community.
“I though it was cool that people really believed in me and the believed in the progress that will come,” Martini said.
The donations didn’t come without a reward, though. To help encourage people to donate, Martini pledged that he would run a 50K, or 31 miles, if money was raised for the five swings.
Beginning at 4 a.m. Aug. 8, Martini will run the whole island of Siesta Key before heading down to Venice and ending back on Siesta Key.
Although it’s a lot of miles, Martini, who has participated in three marathons previously, said he hopes he can push through the few extra miles. To train, he wakes up at 4 a.m. daily and runs 10 to 12 miles before doing some type of cross-training.
Though he will be listening to his “Desert Rock’ playlist during is 50K, Martini welcomes anyone who wants to cheer him on or even run a portion of the route with him.
“It’s not a race for me,” he said. “All I want to do is finish it because people basically paid to see me suffer and I want to make sure they get their money’s worth.”
The suffering, he said, is worth it if it means more children can enjoy the playgrounds, a notion with which the county agrees.
In a letter to Martini, Jonathan Poyner, the Siesta and South Lido Beach Coordinator, wrote that the new swing sets will provide a great benefit to the county.
“The addition of these swings will increase accessibility and open a world of play to many,” Poyner wrote. “These playground swings will enable hundreds of young children, who may not have otherwise had the opportunity, to experience the freedom of flying on a swing under the beautiful skies of the Gulf Coast.”
Poyner said the addition of the swings will bring the county closer to its goal of inclusivity in the parks, an effort Martini said he’s proud to join.
In the future, he hopes the county will install more swings, particularly in north and south county. Additionally, he hopes the county will consider adding a swing for those who use a wheelchair.
“I’m a child at heart, so when I see the struggles that a child non-traditional needs faces, I just want them and parents to know they’re not alone,” Martini said. “I just want kids to be happy and enjoy this because we’re only here for a short time. I feel like it’s really crucial for us to have fun and live in the moment.”
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