Her Parents Couldn’t Afford Running Shoes, Now She’s An Olympian
Meet Brenda Martinez.
She’s an elite distance runner who recently qualified for the Olympics — by a fraction of a second.
This is how close it was:Credit: NBC / YouTube
Martinez placed third in the 1500m Olympic qualifying race, beating out Amanda Eccleston by .03 seconds to snatch the final spot on the Olympic 1500m team.
When Martinez realized she qualified, she broke down. After years of personal struggles and setbacks, the 28-year-old knew she would get a chance to perform on track and field’s biggest stage.
How’d she get there? Let’s start at the beginning. Martinez was a hyperactive kid who had too much energy for her hardworking parents, who each worked two jobs to support Martinez and her two siblings.
Martinez was such a ball of energy that her mother enrolled her in a track and field club. Her mom took on another job so she could pay the club’s fees.
While in the program, Martinez’s coaches realized she wasn’t great at sprinting. But she could run for a long time. That’s when Martinez, who says she was tough to beat when playing “tag” at school, became a distance runner.
Martinez says her parents couldn’t afford nice running shoes when she was a kid, so now she donates shoes to those in need.
“I remember when I was young and my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a new pair of running shoes,” wrote Martinez on Instagram. “The shoes I wore to school were the same shoes I wore to practice. My father would always try to find running shoes on the clearance rack. I’m donating back to the sport that gave me a fighting chance in the world.”
After standout performances in high school, Martinez went on to have an impressive career at UC Riverside, where she would be named All-American three times.
It was also where she met her husband (and trainer) Carlos Handler, a former UC Riverside running star.
After college, Martinez dreamed of making an Olympic team. Her dream was put on hold when two Olympic development teams rejected her.
Without a team to support her, Martinez wondered if she would have to give up on the sport she loved. “There were days when, I don’t want to say I was depressed, but I was crying a lot,” Martinez told Runner’s World.
Without a coach or a team, Martinez and her husband, Carlos Handler, contemplated their next move. Handler decided to give up his running career to pay the rent.
Handler began working construction jobs to help pay the rent and to help Martinez focus on her career. “I couldn’t be selfish and I knew Brenda could do it,” Handler told the OC Register.
Eventually, Martinez and Handler linked up with Joe Vigil, a legendary coach who believed in Martinez’s talent.
Vigil wasn’t just any coach. The 86-year-old has led Adams State University to 19 national championships in cross-country.
After learning that Martinez was rejected by two Olympic development teams, Vigil agreed to coach Martinez. It’s worked out well:
In 2013, Martinez won a bronze medal at the World Championships, becoming the first American woman to medal at a major championship in 25 years.
So at this year’s Olympic trials, Martinez was poised to qualify for two events: the 800m run and the 1500m run.Credit: NBC / Timgraysontv / YouTube
But disaster struck during the 800m. Just as Martinez was making a push, her foot was clipped and she lost her momentum.Credit: NBC Sports / YouTube
Just like that, Martinez lost her shot at qualifying for the 800m.
Martinez was shaken after the race, but she faced the adversity head on, and focused on qualifying for the 1500m.Credit: letsrundotcom / YouTube
“The track doesn’t care about your feelings. You’ve just got to move forward,” said Martinez after the race.
So when Martinez came back and qualified for the 1500m, she was just doing what she always does: overcoming setbacks.
Martinez’s husband attributes her determination to her upbringing. He told the OC Register that growing up without much money made her tougher: “I just think the environment she comes from doesn’t allow her to quit, she doesn’t know when to give up. She just keeps pushing through it.”
Martinez, who runs a running camp for high school girls, says that her desire to inspire young Latina runners also gives her an edge.
Every year, Martinez picks 10 girls to participate in the camp. She pays for their meals and transportation. Her sponsor provides the kids with three pairs of shoes and running gear.
Martinez told Runner’s World whenever there’s a bad day during training, she reminds herself she’s got lots of young runners looking up to her.
“There’s no more feeling sorry for myself. They’re the ones who are keeping me hungry.”
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