Paralympian Raymond Martin wins 4 gold medals in 1st games

Don’t let Raymond Martin’s age fool you: He’s been working for this moment the past 13 years.

Martin, 18, a four-time gold medalist at the 2012 Paralympic Games, has been racing since he was 5 despite the fact that he was born with Arthrogryposis, or Freeman Sheldon Syndrome. Both conditions left Martin as a quadriplegic, meaning all of his limbs are disabled in some form. All the joints in his body are hooked, his legs can’t straighten, his wrists are locked and his fingers can’t open all the way. Given his disabilities, Martin’s childhood growing up in New Jersey was far from easy.

“From an early age, we trained Raymond to do everything for himself,” said Daniel Martin, Raymond’s father. “He had a difficult early childhood. He’s had 17 surgeries to get him where he is. It made him a better person adapting to his disability.”

Even with the physical difficulties that Martin faced, nothing stopped him from racing.

“When I was at my first school, basically the school was for children with disabilities,” Martin said. “They had a track team going there. The coach saw me in gym class, and she picked me out and was like, ‘Oh, do you wanna try track?’ So I tried it, and I still love it today.”

Martin’s gifts were evident at an early age.

“Ray began having a love for sports at an early age,” Daniel Martin said. “He just all of a sudden took a love for track. Raymond has had a good ability really since he started. Just being able to compete in sports was a good thing for him.”

Starting racing early in his life helped Raymond Martin qualify for the Paralympics at such a young age. Competing at the 2012 Games as a youngster isn’t uncommon. Tatyana McFadden, a junior at Illinois and a three-time gold medalist in London, competed in Athens in 2004 at the age of 15. McFadden took home a silver and bronze medal despite being half the age of most of her competition. Illinois graduate Josh George also medaled twice at the 2004 Games when he was 20. Still, Martin’s accomplishments in London are particularly impressive compared to past youthful Paralympians.

Martin entered the games ranked No. 1 in the world in three out of four of the events he was competing in. Martin races in the T52 classification, a distinction for athletes with spinal cord injuries. The 100-meter dash, his first race, was the only event he was not ranked No. 1.

“I absolutely did not think I was gonna win gold because, coming into London, that was actually my worst event,” Martin said. “My teammate, (Paul Nitz) from the United States, was the favorite to win because he actually broke the world record this year. So going into the 100 meter, I definitely did not expect to win. When it was race day, I just thought, you know, this is the 100 meters, I’m just gonna have fun with it.”

Martin certainly had fun, absolutely dominating his competition from the start. The youngest competitors after Martin were 30 or older, but Martin managed to finish with a time of 17.02 seconds. The second-place finisher, Salvador Hernandez Mondragon of Mexico, was 48 years old. Mondragon finished with a time of 17.64 seconds. That .62 time difference might sound close, but not in the realm of Paralympic track.

“I was actually crying,” Daniel Martin said of his son’s performance. “I was crying in joy cause Raymond actually got gold in the Paralympics. The 100 meter isn’t really a fair race for him since he’s a longer distance person. I was really excited when he took the 100 meter.”

Because the Paralympics were not televised in the U.S., Daniel Martin had to watch his son via the Internet. Like many other Paralympic fans, his father found NBC Sports’ lack of coverage frustrating.

“We were furious and disappointed with the United States that it was not televised in this country,” Martin said. “We had to watch it on the Internet in order to see it.”

Despite having some pressure lifted off his shoulders by winning gold in the 100 meters, Martin knew he was going to be the underdog once again in the 400.

“(The 100) definitely took off a little bit of pressure,” Martin said. “Not too much because Paul Nitz was the favorite in the 100, and my next one was the 400, which (Tomoyo Ito) from Japan was (a) favorite. He held the world record, and he won world champs last year, so it took off a little bit of pressure just because I gained some momentum. But I knew I had to refocus because I was racing a totally different person in that race.”

Martin easily won again in the 400, finishing with a time of 58.54 seconds. Ito came in second place with his season-best time of 1:00.40, but it wasn’t good enough to stop Martin. Martin would beat out the 49-year-old Ito once again in the 200, finishing with a Paralympic record time of 30.25. Ito finished over a full second later with a time of 31.60. Martin would knock off Ito for the third time in the 800, finishing the race in a time of 2:00.34. Ito would give Martin his best competition, finishing only .28 seconds behind the 18-year-old. Nonetheless, Martin solidified himself as the T52 classification’s newest star.

Although Martin had high expectations for himself heading into the games, he never expected to take home four golds and to win the U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year.

“It’s one of those pie in the sky things,” Martin said. “I knew it was a slim possibility just because I came in ranked first in three out of four of my races. I definitely didn’t think I was gonna win the 100, I’m gonna reiterate that. Going in, no, I didn’t think I was gonna win four gold medals.”

Martin’s coach, Adam Bleakney, was not surprised by his success at his first Paralympic Games.

“To be honest with you, I expected he would win,” Bleakney said. “Physically, he has such an advantage over his competitors. He’s demonstrated that in his competitions throughout the spring and the summer and where his development has taken him. And just looking at the times he was running, it was not really a surprise that he won the gold.”

Martin attributed his gold medals to his training regimen.

“It’s all about getting the training done,” Martin said. “All my training was done by the time we hit London. It was all a mental game after that. You’re already at your fitness level, you already have the speed. All you have to do is be mentally fit for each race whether it’s the 100 meter or the 800 meter.”

“He trains like the rest of my Paralympic medalists and world champions and national team-level athletes and frankly the entire team,” Bleakney said. “He’s got a very solid work ethic and not only observing him in training but in conversations with his former coach, Ray’s a diligent worker and does everything you ask of him.”

If Martin had been able to, he might have won seven gold medals at the 2012 Games.

Unfortunately, the 1,500, 5,000 and the marathon were discontinued in the T52 classification. “The only reason I did the 100 to 800 was because that’s the only events that my class is eligible for at the games,” Martin said. “(The International Olympic Committee) cut the marathon out of our class, they cut the 1,500 and the 5,000. Hopefully, they change their mind about that. By cutting out the marathon this year, they didn’t even save time, they were just cutting classes. Hopefully for Rio (in 2016), they do add more longer stuff, and I’ll definitely get into that.”

Bleakney thinks the future of the T52 classification is in Martin’s hands.

“He’ll continue to dominate the quadriplegic class for as long as he wants to.”

And his next competition is at the Chicago Marathon in October.

Michael can be reached at [email protected] and @The_MDubb.