Martin foundation highlights importance of mental health, well-being

EDINA, Minn. — When Paul Martin retired from the NHL in 2018, a feeling of loss followed.

“Away from the rink, all I saw is value as a hockey player,” said Martin, a defenseman who played for the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks. “Good and bad. After a win or a loss. You read the social media posts or the newspaper criticizing that you’re overpaid or you’re not playing well. That affects you.

“Your world gets so small when you’re so focused on what you do as opposed to who you are as a person.”

Martin, a second-round pick (No. 32) by the Devils in the 2000 NHL Draft, played 14 NHL seasons, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each. He finished with 320 points (50 goals, 270 assists) and a plus-126 rating in 870 regular-season games.

With mental health issues within his family, Martin took the opportunity in retirement to redefine not only himself but the conversation and stigma surrounding mental health by beginning the Shine a Ligh7 Foundation.

“Hockey players are big and tough, and they don’t show emotion. It’s always ‘I’m fine. I’m good,'” Martin said. “But flipping that switch and recognizing that I was not doing well and finding someone to talk to, that’s what changed.”

Martin, who wore No. 7 throughout his NHL career, created Shine a Ligh7, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Minnesota that provides support to charitable agencies addressing the critical needs of children. Its vision is a world where no stigma is attached to mental health and where youth are empowered to share their stories and let their soul shine.

The Foundation took part in the inaugural Beauty Fest on Wednesday at Da Beauty League to continue and highlight the importance of mental health and well-being.

Da Beauty League is a 4-on-4 summer league featuring NHL, American Hockey League and NCAA Division I players living in Minnesota.

“There are so many pressures on kids today, and so many pressures on athletes,” Martin said. “But if we can provide a safe space, a positive experience, and help erase the stigma by creating the conversation, I think we’re making huge strides not just in our sport but in the world.”

New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson said it’s easy for the outside world to forget the human side of elite athletes.

“There’s a lot of self-doubt as an athlete in so many ways,” Nelson said. “Mix in social media today, it can be hard to see past it.

“But things like what [Martin] is doing, and (Arizona Coyotes forward) Andrew Ladd and his foundation (The Ladd Foundation), they are speaking to kids to help them navigate, talk and work through them as youth so when they get older, they can have the tools to navigate struggles even better.”

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