PHILADELPHIA -- The doctors told him what to do. The therapists urged him on. His mom, dad, aunts, friends … everyone was there to coax Lenny Martelli literally back onto his feet.
And he listened and he believed. But Lenny is an athlete, and before the freak snowboard accident robbed this high school student of his athleticism, robbed him of feeling from his chest down, Lenny was used to listening -- especially to one sort of person.
And so when Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli -- no relation -- called and told Lenny in no uncertain terms that he would walk again, Lenny listened a little harder.
“It’s like a coach, when he orders you to do something, you do it,’’ Lenny said. “You don’t question it. You do what your coach tells you to do.’’
And so Lenny walked. Not immediately -- it took four grueling months -- but eventually he walked.
And on Wednesday night, before the Hawks' game with Xavier, Phil Martelli delivered the reward he had promised the first time he met Lenny.
When Phil Martelli took the court, Lenny Martelli walked out beside him. With his family wearing their Lennystrong T-shirts in the stands and in tears, Lenny came from the locker room to midcourt.
“He’s a coachable kid, that’s why he listened to Phil,’’ Lenny Sr. said. “He does what his coaches tell him.’’
Lenny, of course, did the hard work. He spent the endless hours in Magee Rehabilitation, enduring the emotional, physical and intellectual toll that is the all-consuming work of learning to walk again. He was the one who spent 9 a.m. until noon and 2 until 3 each day in therapy, hooked up to the contraptions that force legs that that don’t want to walk again to move.
He was the one who did his homework in his hour off each day and went from therapy to working with a tutor so he wouldn’t fall behind in his schoolwork at Pope John Paul the Second High School.
But Phil Martelli was there, on the phone, in the hospital and he didn’t have to be.
“The kindness of a stranger,’’ said Leti Martelli, Lenny’s mother. “It’s just an amazing thing, the kindness of a stranger.’’
There have been so many emotional days in the last year -- a year and a day, to be exact, since the accident. This night won’t be the top.
The top is still reserved for that May day when the therapists told Lenny to wrap his arms around their necks like a wounded soldier and walk.
“And he just started walking,’’ Leti said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘They told me to walk, so I did.’’’
But this day, most everyone agrees, ranks up there because it’s not a day anyone planned for.
Lenny always said he would walk. Doctors told him he wouldn’t. He ignored them.
Leti always knew he would walk. Therapists said her optimism was lovely, but reality was a necessary tool.
She ignored them.
But this? The chance to walk onto a basketball court and bask in the moment just because a guy with the same last name -- a guy who responded to a mom desperate to give her injured son an emotional lift -- gave a lot more than lip service? That, no one planned on.
Lenny spoke with the Hawks prior to tipoff. He didn’t have any notes, but he knew exactly what he was going to say.
“I’m just going to tell them to believe,’’ Lenny said. “Against all odds, no matter what anybody says, believe.’’