Ray Martin won four gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, going undefeated in the men's T52 races.
In 2013, Raymond Martin became the first man to win five gold medals at an International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championship.
When Raymond Martin is training, he’s not just working hard for his next race or to beat the athletes in the adjacent lanes.
He’s also trying to hold off the next Raymond Martin.
“He’s out there, he’s definitely out there,” says Martin, who won four gold medals as an 18-year-old at his first Paralympic Games in London in 2012. “It’s just a matter of time until he makes his appearance. Just got to stay sharp and hopefully keep that guy at bay, you know?”
Martin laughs, but he’s serious about working to stay at the top of the podium. He dominated the T52 wheelchair races at the London Games — winning the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters — and knows he can be topped at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 by some still-unknown speedster.
“I always go to training every day thinking about how I came to London and I did well and that any day any 18-year-old up-and-comer can come by and start doing well, also,” said Martin, 20. “That’s what really keeps me motivated. … So I try to keep that in mind and keep training as hard as I can to keep that from happening.”
With no major international competitions scheduled in 2014, Martin’s goal for this year has been simply to push himself and explore challenges in longer-distance races.
He calls this “one of those grinding years” where he needs to think long term about his goals.
Although he set a T52 world record in the 200 meters at the Desert Challenge, an International Paralympic Committee Athletics Grand Prix event in Arizona in May, with a time of 30.02 (breaking his previous record by 16 hundredths of a second) — and also won the 100-, 400- and 800-meter races — it actually was Martin’s first track meet of 2014 and first since November.
For most of this year, Martin has been competing in road races, including 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons and marathons. At the Boston Marathon in April, Martin set a personal best of 1:48:26, shattering his previous best of 1:59 at Chicago in 2013.
“Typically, I’m a track guy,” said Martin, who just finished up his second year at the University of Illinois, where he is majoring in mathematics. “I did the short-distance stuff in London, but since there’s no major championships this year, no world championships or the Games, I decided to see what the roads felt like.”
Martin said he’s not only enjoyed road racing, but believes it makes him a better track racer, too. The strength and stamina that comes from doing the longer distances helps in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500, he said.
“Just being able to keep moderately high intensity for a longer period of time,” he said. “And all that comes from marathon training on the road.”
Next up for Martin is the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships at the College of San Mateo (California) June 20-22, where he’ll compete in the 100-, 400- and 1,500-meter races, and possibly the 800 meters.
He’s not going into the championships with specific expectations but says he has felt good in recent training sessions in Champaign, Illinois.
“I’ve been pushing really well the last couple of weeks,” he said, “so hopefully I can pull off some good times and some good races.”
Martin just wants to continue to keep the positive momentum flowing from the London Games and last year’s world championships in France, where he won five gold medals.
Already, he’s been the United States Olympic Committee’s Paralympic SportsMan of the Year twice, for 2012 and 2013.
This is his first full four-year cycle between Paralympic Games, so he’s intent on improving, doing well at the world championships in 2015 and then at Rio the next year. He says he’s already exceeded anything he could have anticipated.
He went into London just hoping to get some experience, yet won every event he entered.
After those Games, he discovered it was going to be hard to fly under the radar at Illinois, where a large congratulatory billboard with his picture was on display just outside campus, and another large ad was on the side of a bus.
Now, as he travels across campus, he’s often approached by other students who congratulate him or want to ask him about the Paralympic Movement. As of yet, though, he’s never seen the bus ad in person, though he jokes he’s “been trying to follow the buses around” to find it.
“It’s really cool and it’s really humbling that the university supports me,” he said.
Now, he’s looking forward to the nationals and the next two years of work. He’s taking nothing for granted. Martin wants to be better at 22 than he was at 18 in London.
He’ll have to be, he says, because, “Any day, someone can come up, some up-and-comer 18-year-old can start doing well.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.