by Tracey Outlaw
Special to the Star News
Paul Martin has devoted fans across the country, from Pittsburgh, where he plays for the Penguins of the National Hockey League, to his hometown of Elk River and further west. But perhaps his biggest fan is a 7-year-old boy named Parker Shanton in Detroit, Mich.
Parker has leukemia and is unable to travel due to his chemotherapy treatments, so Flat Parker, a flat caricature of the real Parker, was created as a fun distraction during his three-year treatment plan. Through The Flat Parker Project, Parker gets to travel, see new places and meet new people through Flat Parker.
When Martin, who is on the 2014 U.S. men’s hockey Olympic team, and his parents, Dale and Bev Martin, of Elk River, heard about the project, they offered to host him. They took him to Sochi, Russia, and have been submitting photos and stories that are shared on Flat Parker’s Facebook page and blog, www.flatparker.com.
Flat Parker’s journey started in 2012 when his mission was to visit all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 365 days – going stranger to stranger the entire way. He made it back to Parker after a year and was ready to travel again. This time his mission, the 2014 World Tour, is to visit all seven continents and as many countries as possible. The hope is that he returns to the U.S. to be with Parker when he goes into remission at the end of 2014.
Flat Parker was inspired by “Flat Stanley,” a popular children’s book and school program to provide educational experiences. The twist to this idea was to model it after a real boy, share real stories and provide emotional support to a real family.
“Parker and our family are on a very difficult 3 1/2-year journey,” said Mike Shanton, Parker’s father. “The Flat Parker Project has made the road … easier for us to travel. Parker loves to check in and see where ‘he’ has landed and who ‘he’ is with. The support from people following the project has been overwhelming. We know we are not alone as we face the everyday challenges and scary unknown aspects of the disease.”
Tracey Outlaw, Shanton’s cousin from Cincinnati, Ohio, created the project. Outlaw says it has provided courage and inspiration to many and taken on a life of it’s own.
Through the 2014 World Tour, Flat Parker will also provide:
•Education and awareness of leukemia.
•Inspiring stores from those who host him.
•Educational opportunities about culture, geography as he travels with world, including a “Teachers Kit” to be used in classrooms.
•Updates on Parker as he continues through a maintenance stage of his chemotherapy treatments.
“Parker’s enjoying the Olympics, and the Martins are so gracious for sharing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Shanton said.
“I think Detroit may have lost a Redwings fan as Parker now ‘loves Paul and the Penguins,’” he added.
Follow Flat Parker on Facebook or at www.flatparker.com.