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Anthony Martinez has never taken the easy way out. In situations where reason tells most people to flee, Martinez is the first to help - he is Denver Police Department's Sergeant of the Year.

Walking down the street you wouldn't describe Martinez as a tough guy with guts of steel, he has a round boyish face that hides his true age of 42 and eyelashes that curl up naturally. His skin is tan with rosy cheeks and kind, pensive eyes.

Tony, as he is more commonly known, has been serving in the city's police department since 1995, following a deputy sheriff position in Adams County. He works the graveyard shift patrol at Denver's active district 6, an area set up for trouble with bar brawls, sporting events and crimes being a common occurrence.

To disconnect from the challenges of his day-to-day work Anthony Martinez builds motorcycles a hobby that has won him awards at bike shows around the
To disconnect from the challenges of his day-to-day work Anthony Martinez builds motorcycles a hobby that has won him awards at bike shows around the country. (Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post)

"The most rewarding part about my job is if I can go home knowing that I relieved somebody of terror, of frightening situations, if I was able to protect somebody," Martinez said. "There is a lot of that in my city where people need help."

A true vocation
Tony says he would not change his job for anything, but he never really planned on being a police officer. His mother, Lydia Martinez, may disagree.

"When he was little he liked uniforms and I have pictures of him where he would stand in front of our first house and he would put his fireman's hat and he would wave to everybody that was going by," Lydia said. "Then he would put on a policeman's hat and wave to the neighbors."

After graduating high school Tony decided to join the Marine Corps like his father, Abel Martinez, had done years before him. Lydia said they always knew he would join the Corps since he was young but they were surprised by the path he chose once he entered recruitment.

"I remember when he first went in to sign up, a recruiter called me up and he said 'your son just tested for the Marine Corps and he qualifies to be in the Marine Air Corps class,'" Abel said. "He said 'your son don't wanna' and that is a good thing to have one of the top deals, and he didn't want it, he wanted to be a machine gunner."

Anthony cuando jóven en su uniforme de football. Siempre le gustaron los uniformes incluyendo los de deportes.
Anthony cuando jóven en su uniforme de football. Siempre le gustaron los uniformes incluyendo los de deportes. (Cortesía de Lydia Martinez )

Tony chose to be a machine gunner just like his dad had been in Vietnam.

"When I was in the Marine Corps, I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to be a machine gunner, which is in the infantry," Tony explained. "People thought I was kind of crazy, but it is a very challenging job. It's physical, it's mental, it puts you in a lot of dangerous situations and I thrive on that kind of stuff."

His dedication earned him an honorable discharge after four years and serving in the Persian Gulf War.

The Corps also gave him a foundation in which he would build his life values.

"I have to thank one thing for the way I am today and that is the Marine Corps," Tony said. "It taught me the basics of leadership and discipline and it has followed me my entire life."

La familia Martinez durante la graduación de Tim Martinez. A la izquierda, Anthony en su uniforme de Marine, seguido por su hermana Priscilla, su papá
La familia Martinez durante la graduación de Tim Martinez. A la izquierda, Anthony en su uniforme de Marine, seguido por su hermana Priscilla, su papá Abel, su hermano Tim y a la derecha su mamá Lydia. (Cortesía de Lydia Martinez)

The Corps' 'phenomenal' time came at a cost.

"The bad part about me being a Marine was that I was overseas, I was fighting a war, I never got to see my newborn child," he said.

So with his discharge in hand and a marriage that led to divorce Tony decided to move to new adventures.

'He is courageous'
Being a machine gunner didn't qualify Tony for any regular job so instead he looked into a career in law enforcement. Tony joined the Denver Police Department in 1995 and soon enough he would be tested to the limit in the Bruce VanderJagt shooting.

Officer VanderJagt was killed in the line of duty in 1997 after pursuing a burglary suspect for 30 miles when the man delivered a hail of bullets from an automatic weapon fatally injuring him. The suspect later committed suicide.

"That changed my aspect and thoughts of how important it is to continue doing what we do and stay on our toes," Tony said. "It was horrific for all of us, but it really made me mature as an officer and as a sergeant today to understand the dangers that we face."

Tony and his partners pulled VanderJagt away from the shooting for which they received the Distinguished Service Cross Award.

"That moment has pretty much been scarred into my brain for life," he said.

High-risk situations have become the norm for Tony, but he takes it as it comes with a high degree of dedication, said Lt. Steven Addison.

 "Tony really epitomizes what it means to be a really good sergeant in probably the toughest district in the city," Addison said. "He stands up at roll call almost every night and brings up a positive thing that someone did the night before."

Addison said Tony recently won a Lifesaving Medal award for coordinating police officers to pull a man of off a ledge.

"He is courageous," he said. "He is not afraid to step up, he is not afraid to lead from the front. He kind of helped set our standard on what to expect from the sergeants."

Having been an officer himself, Addison said he knows the job can take a toll on people, which is why they must have a way to disconnect from their work life. For Tony it's motorcycle building.

"I think the greatest thing about Tony is that he has passions outside of police work," he said. "His passion for his motorcycle business is great because when he comes to work he hasn't been thinking about work."

It's Copr' Choppers
Tony's passion for motorcycles came from his biggest influence: his father. Abel had worked as a machinist for 30 years after serving in the Corps.

"The way I turn off the switch and the way I recharge my batteries, is I focus my attention on my motorcycle craze," Tony said.

After leaving the corps Tony bought his first Harley-Davidson. He kept stripping the parts from the bike and changing them, which sparked the idea to build his own bike.

Abel and Tony bought a motorcycle frame and pursued a father-son project that led to half a dozen trophies at bike shows across the nation. Surprised by the success of their venture Tony decided to turn his hobby into an official business launching Copr' Choppers.

With name in hand, Tony began building high-end motorcycles with intricate designs that put the rider inches above the road, paint jobs with electrical colors like green, blue and orange and the occasional skull or sexy girl on the gas tank.

Abel refuses to take the credit for any part of Copr' Choppers saying he only built bikes to ride to work while he calls Tony's bikes a master piece.

"My husband won't take credit for it, but he is a machinist so as far as the bike building Anthony learned what he learned from his dad its not something he always knew, but my husband is real modest as far as taking credit," Lydia said.

The greatest fan of  Tony's business is without doubt his wife of 12 years, Brina Martinez.

Brina and Tony met in middle school but their love didn't spur until about 20 years later when they ran into each other at the Baja Beach Club, where Tony worked off duty. 

"I walked in with my girlfriends and all of a sudden I hear 'Brina,' and when someone pronounces my name right I now they really know me," she said. "I looked up and there was a flashlight in my eyes and I couldn't see him and it was him and the rest is history."

Brina is a tall slender woman with charcoal black hair and cinnamon colored skin. When asked what made her marry Tony she has three points: his tenacity, his personality and he is the handiest man on earth.

"We balance each other out," she said. "I married him just because he is my best friend."

 Brina who accompanies Tony to all the bike shows said one of the proudest moments she's had with her husband is when she saw the finished product of Tony's first bike.

"The most memorable moment was when he unveiled it and it was beautiful," Brina said between tears.
Blade, the name of the bike, was an electric blue color with a chrome engine and finishings. The gas tank was adorned with smoky-like skulls.

Strong family, strong roots
Having a strong family background shaped Tony into who he is today.

Lydia and Abel both grew up in Colorado but had never met until she became Abel's pen pal during his time in Vietnam.

"That's how we met, through letters," she said. "So when he came home in October it wasn't even a month later he proposed."

They married and had three children: Tony, Tim and Priscilla.

Both were raised in the farmland area Lydia came from a humble family of 12 siblings and Abel from a family of five.They didn't grew up with much but the biggest lesson was hard work.

"My dad always said you can be whatever you want all you need is hard work and the desire," Lydia said.

Both Martinez are from families with generational roots in the United States' southwest territories even before the creation of the country. Their Spanish speaking roots gave them their strong family values, but it wasn't always easy growing up speaking Spanish in the U.S. In the 1950s there was a strong opposition to those of Hispanic descent despite being an integral part of the history of the southwest.

"Back then speaking Spanish was looked down upon," Abel said. "I never passed it on to my kids maybe its because I still remember how they brought us up."

Lydia said they chose not to teach their children Spanish in fear of hindering they're chance for future opportunities.

"I regret it now, because now being bilingual is wonderful," Lydia said.

Nonetheless, Tony said being Hispanic has helped him at his job to be a role model to Latino youth.

"I see a lot of kids who have potential to go either way, bad or good, that are Hispanic, and I see myself in them," Tony said. "I wish I could be there for them all the time."

Tony's dedication as a Denver police officer has brought one more award to his resume. Family and supervisors hold an unmeasurable pride for this Sergeant of the Year.

"I think he is damn good at what he does," Abel said.