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Gov signs bill named for Riverdale football player who died of heatstroke

The Zachary Martin Act was signed into law Tuesday and named for the former Riverdale football player of the same name. It will protect high school athletes during Florida’s hottest months.

Zach was 16 when he collapsed of heatstroke at football practice in 2017. He died 11 days later.

Every day, Laurie Giardano thinks about her son – his smile, his laugh and his loving character. Those happy thoughts, she said, are then overwhelmed by one bad memory: how he died.

Giardano believes she’ll sleep more peacefully now knowing that more athletes will live.

Her son may be gone, but he’s still making a difference.

“When I got the news this morning that the governor had signed it into law last night, there were tears.”

Giardano said she felt Zach cheering her on.

“What would have happened is one of his great big bear hugs, and it’s probably something I miss the most,” she said.

“It’s absolutely perfect because today is my birthday and I can’t help but think that it’s a gift.”

A gift she said reflects who her son was.

“He always was protective of those who couldn’t protect themselves.”

Monday marks three years since Zach collapsed on the field during practice at Riverdale High School.

“It’s common knowledge that he was not put in a cold water emersion tub or cooled off with ice,” Giardano said.

She turned her anger and grief into action. The law DeSantis enacted requires defibrillators and immersion tubs to be at every practice, game, and workout.

“It requires training of personnel so that they understand that it’s cool first, transport second,” Giardano explained.

Water is a must.

“Players can get water at any time that they need water, they don’t have to wait until break time.”

The Zachary Martin Act may now be a law but the game isn’t over. Next on the schedule if a federal law.

After her son’s death, Giordano created a foundation in his name that has donated dozens of cooling tubs to schools across Florida.

The new law also requires schools to train personnel on how to recognize signs of heat-related ailments, including potentially deadly heat strokes, and to take life-saving actions.

According to a legislative analysis produced for the bill, Florida led the country in heat-related deaths among student-athletes, with at least four since 2011. More than 460 student-athletes in Florida were treated for exertional heatstroke during the 2017-18 school year.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research said 47 high school football players died from heatstroke or related complications between 1995 and 2019. Nearly all of those deaths happened during routine practices, according to the center.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter:Morgan Rynor
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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