Was it Logan’s, or was it Lone Star?
The way Toby Martin tells it, a chance moment a dozen years ago in the parking lot of Logan’s Roadhouse with his son Christian, who will compete next month in the National Geographic Bee Championships, served as a sign of his remarkable mind.
Fourteen-year-old Christian interrupts as Toby sets the scene.
"It was Lone Star (Steakhouse)," Christian said.
"Son, it was Logan’s," Toby Martin said.
Christian’s mother, Terri, laughs as the two bicker.
"No, it was Lone Star," Christian said.
Getting to the story, Toby remembers how he, a friend and his son, who was then 2 years old, sat in a car in the parking lot. Christian had just begun an obsession with cars, being able to identify many different kinds of cars, all from looking at pictures in books and magazines.
Toby’s friend took advantage of the moment to do an experiment.
"My buddy looked over there at a car in the parking lot and said ‘I bet you don’t know what that car is,’ " he said.
Pointing to the car, Toby asked his son what kind of car his friend had pointed to. What happened next is something he has never forgotten.
"He just raised up in between me and my buddy in his car seat, looked over there in the parking lot and said ‘That’s a ’57 Crown Vic.’," he said. "My jaw dropped because it was a ’57 Crown Vic."
Christian, an eighth-grader at Echols Middle School, has always had a mind like that. Christian is a visual learner, so he reads as much as he can and looks at as many pictures as he can to learn.
This learning style helped Christian earn a trip to Washington, D.C., in May to compete in the 2018 National Geographic Bee Championships. Christian will be one of the 100 students between fourth and eighth grades from across the country who will be asked to name and identify countries on maps during the competition May 20-23.
A couple of weeks ago, Christian took the state title in the Alabama National Geographic Bee at Samford University. Admittedly, he did not study that much.
"I might have looked over a map or two beforehand, but not much more than that," Christian said. "I’m not a big study-er."
Instead of studying maps, Christian credits his affinity for geography to a life filled with reading about different places, remembering the maps in the books and understanding the history of each location.
Terri Martin said her son’s reading habits started early on.
"He’s always had a thirst for knowledge," she said. "When he got interested in a subject, we would have to check out everything about it that we could from the library."
Christian, whose interests span subjects as diverse as the Star Wars canon, sports history and historical fiction, said geography perfectly fits in with all of his passions.
"I like learning about new places, but just random trivia places," he said.
That interest in different places recently led to the idea to pursue French in high school. When asked why, he said, laughing, "I like beignets."
For Toby Martin, he's happy that others are now getting to see his son’s mind at work and how special his abilities are.
"We have always seen it," he said. "In a lot of ways, he’s just a typical teenager."
Christian said he is excited to see the sights in D.C., such as the Smithsonian museums or a Washington Nationals baseball game.
The champion of the national bee will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, which includes a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine, and an all-expenses-paid expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll.
Reach Drew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0204.