Last fall, Raymond Martin was just settling into his freshman year at the University of Illinois, days after winning four gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, when the United States Olympic Committee informed him that he was the Paralympic SportsMan of the Year.
This fall, the 19-year-old sophomore on an athletic scholarship for wheelchair racing in Champaign, Ill., was just as surprised when the USOC called from its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., to say he won the Paralympic SportsMan honor for the second consecutive year.
Some news never gets old.
In his first Paralympic Games in 2012, Martin won every event he entered, including Team USA’s first track & field gold medal of the Paralympic Games in the 100 meters. Martin, who competes in the T52 class, also won gold medals in the 200, 400 and 800 in London.
This past summer, Martin won five gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.
But when he saw the Colorado Springs area code one his phone while eating breakfast on a recent morning, Martin assumed somebody was just calling to check in on a routine drug test.
“It caught me off guard,” Martin said. “I didn’t know it was that time a year for nominations. I got a call saying ‘You won again.’ It just means so much. I won two years in a row. I’m just really excited for the award and I’m really excited to go to New York City for the ceremony. I’m absolutely thrilled.”
Martin will receive his award during a ceremony Oct. 29 in New York. The other winners are alpine skier Ted Ligety (Olympic SportsMan of the Year), swimmer Katie Ledecky (Olympic SportsWoman of the Year), cyclist Monica Bascio (Paralympic SportsWoman of the Year), doubles tennis champions Bob and Mike Bryan (Olympic Team of the Year) and the U.S. men’s 4x100-meter track & field team of Richard Browne, Blake Leeper, Jerome Singleton and Jarryd Wallace (Paralympic Team of the Year).
Martin, a Jersey City, N.J., native, is excited that his parents will be able to attend the ceremony. They were unable to see him be honored with the award last year in Colorado Springs. Nor were they able to travel to London where he won four Paralympic gold medals in 2012 or to France for the world championships this year.
“It’s going to be hard for them to watch,” Martin said of his father, Daniel Martin, and mother, April Martin. “They are so proud of me. I’m really, really glad I can make them proud. They didn’t get to go to London. They didn’t get to go to France, either, so they always had to share their joy with me from afar. I’m just really happy they get to see this one.”
This will not be Martin’s first award ceremony this year. He also went to ESPN’s ESPY Awards this summer as he was nominated for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. (Martin was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that causes the shortening of joints.)
The only issue is that he got invited to the ESPYS three weeks before the world championships in France, and the ESPYS were held in Los Angeles three days before he was slated to race his first event in the world championships.
“That was a tough decision, but I talked to my coach and he was fully confident that I would do well if I went to the ESPYS,” Martin said. “I trusted him, and I decided to go.”
Martin left for Los Angeles on July 16 and attended the ESPYS the next night.
When he attended the ESPYS last year, he was disappointed that many of the big-name U.S. Olympians were not there because they were in training camp for the London Games. And while he was not as star struck his second time around at the ESPYS, he was, however, thrilled that he got to meet some of his favorite Olympians from the London Games, including basketball gold medalist LeBron James.
“It was a great experience; I was nominated last year, but it was just so flashy and new to me,” Martin said. “I was treated like an able-body athlete; it was great. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. I knew about the gift suite, and I was a little more grounded this time. I did not have my head in the clouds like last time.”
He said he was more excited to meet and see Olympians than pro sports stars from the NFL and other major leagues.
“I never met them, but I know they represented Team USA well in London, and I did the same,” Martin said. “I was just more excited to meet the people who represented the country well in the Games.”
But Martin said he had to focus on the world championships while he was at the ESPYS because he wanted to prove that he wasn’t just a flash in the pan in London, especially since he was set to compete in one more race, the 1500, at the world championships than he did in the Paralympic Games in London.
“I enjoyed myself, but I tried to stay grounded (on what I had to do) in France,” he said, “because it was the world championships and I had to prove myself, I had to prove I wasn’t just a young guy who would sweep the field and leave, I had to defend myself. I kept that in the back of my mind. I just enjoyed myself as much as I could.”
The day after the ESPYS Martin flew to France, and a day after arriving he won a gold medal in the 1,500 July 20.
“It was very nerve racking, especially with that race because I didn’t do it in London,” Martin said of the 1,500. “So I knew it would be a close race, which it turned out to be.”
Martin won the 1,500 by five seconds with a personal-record time of 3 minutes, 50 seconds. The next day he won what he called his “second most nerve racking race” — the 100 — with a time of 17.5 seconds. Then he won the 800 by two seconds in a time of 1:59.
He closed out the world championships by winning the 200 in 31 seconds and the 400 in 59 seconds.
“It was a calming feeling,” he said of winning all five races. “I was excited that I won, but in London it was different, one because it was the Games; it’s just so monumentally bigger just in terms of the crowd and how they sold it in London.
“France was more downscaled, but it was still a high-caliber event. Everyone was looking at me this time around. I had the target on my back, and it was definitely different.”
Martin knows that target on his back will be even bigger at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
“I’m expecting the pressure,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much. That’s when you sort of fall off your game. I know I am going to be the one to watch.”
In the meantime, Martin is focusing on marathons. He finished the Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes, and in Boston he came one minute shy of his two-hour goal. After the race, he went to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory a few blocks from the finish line and could hear the blast from the twin bombs that rocked the country’s oldest marathon.
He said he definitely plans on competing in Boston again this April.
“It’s going to be a totally different experience,” he said. “There will definitely be ramped- up security. Boston is a very strong city. I even saw that on the day of the bombing. They are very resilient. I have no doubt the marathon is going to be stronger.
“I saw the positive in it. I saw a city struck with tragedy just rise from the ashes and bounce back. It was incredible to watch and follow after the race.”
The former kinesiology major who wanted to become an occupational therapist last time is also in the process of changing his major to statistics.
“I was a big math guy in high school,” he said. “I really enjoyed it and never thought about pursuing it. It was just fun to me. After taking a stats class in college I remembered how much I enjoyed doing it. It just came to me. I should pursue this. It’s outside sports and I enjoy it and love that.
“The good thing about statisticians is they are in high demand just because there is so much data out there that needs to be analyzed. You could work in health care, for the government or in the private sector.”
One thing that doesn’t take a statistician to add up is that the last two years have been more than positive for Martin.
“This year has been crazy,” he said. “I think back on my 2012 and that year was absolutely nuts but reminiscing about this year, this year was equally crazy.”