Peggy Martin competes in banked slalom at the 2023 FIS Para Snowboarding World Championships. (Photo: Luc Percival)
Two months before her 59th birthday, Peggy Martin made world history and then laughed happily about it.
In La Molina, Spain, in March, Martin became the oldest Para snowboarder to medal at a world championships, as she took home two silvers.
“I wasn’t expecting anything to bring home; this is a surprise,” Martin said.
Martin finished second in the women’s dual banked slalom UL and second in the banked slalom team while competing with Dennae Russell, a 31-year-old from South Dakota.
This was a warm welcome to the big stage of international snowboarding world for Martin, who might have been a two-time Paralympian by now except there weren’t enough global competitors in the women’s upper-limb classification to allow for competition in the Games.
“My intent was to go to the last two Paralympics,” said Martin, who lost the use of her left arm following a snowmobiling crash in 1986. “I thought there would be no way we wouldn’t be allowed to compete. All the other girls are competing, why wouldn’t we be allowed? It’s heartbreaking when you’ve done everything you need to do, and they say, ‘No, you can’t go.’”
However, women’s snowboardcross and banked slalom in the UL classification were provisionally approved for the 2026 Games.
“I believe I would be 62 years old (by then),” Martin said.
And that led to another laugh.
“We’ll see how that goes,” she said.
In a snowboarding world where youthful energy fuels the sport, Martin is an ageless reminder that there are no boundaries. Snowboarding caught her eye one day seven years ago in Colorado when she was riding a lift to a skiing trail at Copper Mountain.
“I was going up the lift and below me was a course and a big banner, ‘Para Sports.’ And it was a snowboard course,” she said. “Look at that. I had absolutely no idea. I just never followed the Para anything. I’ve had this injury for a long time and I just lived my life and didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know there was a real community like I have now found and love.”
Martin, who is an aircraft dispatcher and planner for Frontier Airlines in Denver, launched into action. She researched the sport and found coaches who could help her. Soon, she was snowboarding at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado and then competing in world cup competitions, often as the only snowboarder in the women’s UL classification.
“At that time, when I raced, I was the only upper-limb female to race, so you just end up with first (place) because you’re the only person,” she said.
Martin had plenty of company in La Molina. She was one of three Americans in the women’s dual banked slalom UL, and among seven snowboarders from four nations. After she won silver in the dual banked slalom on March 15, she was assigned to join Russell in the team event.
“A lot of the young girls, I didn’t know,” Martin said. “They have their helmets on, we’re just ready to race. I really hadn’t officially met Dennae until (race day on March 16). And it was like, ‘OK, you’re my partner.’ It was great. We got to know each other and hang out. It was so much fun.”
That sentiment was shared by Russell.
“I was out there to have fun and soak up every second. Peggy was, too,” Russell said. “We talked a little strategy but didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves. I’m so thankful to have been able to be on a team with her.”
Adding to the enjoyment of Martin’s world championships debut was having her 68-year-old sister, Sally, along for the trip. The sisters rented a car and cruised around Spain together. After competition one day, they went to a neighboring town for lunch. And as Martin talked via an online connection from Spain, she reported Sally “was upstairs having a beer.”
“I’ve always called her my coach even though she knows nothing about snowboarding,” Peggy said with a laugh. “We travel together and have fun and have adventures and meet new people and laugh a lot. It’s always fun to have somebody to hang with, especially if it’s your sister and you like each other.”