Teen battling cystic fibrosis raises awareness of cause with her songs

It’s not easy for Crystal Martinez to keep on top of her busy schedule.

Along with her schoolwork as a student at Pocono Mountain West High School, she also has a hectic schedule of singing engagements extending through the summer, including one that will be before 100,000 people at the Pocono Raceway when she sings “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the song popularized by country western superstar Lee Greenwood, at the Pennsylvania 500 on Aug. 1.

The Pocono Lake resident was supposed to sing at the recent Pocono 500 but missed because of illness. She says she’ll be ready for the next race.

There’s no stage fright for Crystal, who sang “America the Beautiful” during a short track race in Richmond, Va., won by Kyle Busch. While there, she met with driver Denny Hamlin, who has spoken out for awareness of cystic fibrosis, which has afflicted his cousin.

Crystal also has the disease.

“I got in touch with Denny Hamlin’s Foundation when I heard about what he does with it and asked what I could do. When he found out I could sing, he asked me if I would perform,” Crystal said after her rousing performance that was carried on Youtube.

“I was singing before I was diagnosed,” said Crystal, who said she was diagnosed at the age of 9.

“When they found out I had it, they didn’t realize that I could sing and when they found out, they thought it was great because cystic fibrosis makes it hard to do activities.”

Crystal, who started singing with the church choir at Our Lady of the Valley in Pocono Lake as a young child, has worked through her personal challenge.

She is auditioning on Saturday at the Roxy Theater on Main Street in Northampton as part of Northampton Community Days Fair in the Lehigh Valley/Pocono Idol contest where she was first runner-up last year.

The finals are July 10 at the Northampton bandshell.

Crystal also is a cast member for “High School Musical,” which will be presented next month at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg and already has been in the stage productions “Footloose” earlier this year at her school and in “Pinocchio” last fall at the Sherman.

Crystal performs with Dream Kids, which raises money for terminally ill kids.

“I sing Motown to country to hip-hop. It’s really fun to get all the styles out there,” she said with a laugh.

And she’ll be sitting in with New York City recording producer Jeff Burke, a professional jazz musician who has worked with Harry Connick Jr.

But what she really wants is to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis, one of the most widespread life-shortening genetic diseases. She takes vitamin supplements, antibiotics and enzymes that were increased to about 30 pills a day recently when she came down with pancreatitis that forced her to skip the Pocono 500. Her new friend Hamlin did not finish that race because of engine problems.

Crystal also has had to perform lengthy breathing exercises at the start of the day and to wear a special vest while doing it.

“She doesn’t let any of these things stop her,” said her mom, Tricia.

Crystal last month participated in a CF walk-a-thon and said she still is accepting donations from supporters for the cystic fibrosis foundation at her Web site of www.cff.org/great_strides/crystalmartinez5813.

“My main message is ‘Always singing, always loving it, no matter what,” she said.

And her courageous message will resonate when she performs at the American Legion Post in Mountaintop on Aug. 23 in a benefit for another child suffering from cystic fibrosis.

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