Tokyo Paralympics: Raymond Martin says wheelchair racing gave him independence
Two-time Paralympian Raymond Martin is all set to once again hit the tracks during the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. The 27-year-old track star is no stranger to winning. After securing six gold medals and one silver medal at his previous two Paralympic games (Paralympic Games London 2012 and Paralympic Games Rio 2016), and being named the Paralympic Sportsman of the Year in 2012, Martin has his eyes set on bringing home more accolades during Tokyo Paralympics.
Martin, a New Jersey native, was born with a congenital condition called Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a subcategory of a broader condition called Arthrogryposis, which causes contractures, or stiffening, of joints. He has limited movement in his limbs, face, and neck due to the condition. He began wheelchair racing at the tender age of five, when he got his first-ever racing chair, although he only began racing competitively in his late teens.
In an interview with Baylor College of Medicine's newsletter, Martin said, "I have a congenital disability, so I’ve been using a wheelchair since I was young. It was more amateur level at that age, a leisure activity. At school, I was picked out by a gym teacher that noticed I was quite active; she asked if I wanted to start in track and field, and here we are.” "Around 2010 and 2011, I started to get more serious about it. The London 2012 Paralympic Games were coming up, and I stepped up my training. It wasn’t for leisure anymore; it was a focused program. I was working out maybe five to six times a week," he added.
Martin made a splash with his Paralympics debut in 2012 at London. He won four gold medals in the 100-, 200-, 400-, and 800-meter races. "That is when I turned professional. I came out with four medals from those Games, and that really set the stage for the rest of my career." "I was 18 at my first Paralympic Games, and I didn’t know what to expect. You hear about how grandiose the Games are, and they are! It feels surreal. It’s just this indescribable feeling to really put into words,” said Martin. “In London 2012, every session was sold out. That stadium sat 80,000 people and it was so loud. Once it is time for your event and you come out, you can’t hear anything. There are deafening cheers, it is something else. I had not experienced anything like that," he shared.
In another interview with Jersey City Times, Martin shared how wheelchair racing gave him more independence. "I would say as a wheelchair user, you sometimes can feel confined just because of various reasons like structure … So, you feel like you can’t really move around too much … [R]acing kind of gave me this sense of activity … I can do more and …can move definitely more freely.”
Aside from being a star Paralympian, Martin is also working towards his dream of becoming a physician's assistant. He is currently enrolled at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "I knew that I wanted to work in the health professions, I just didn’t know what setting I would like. Then, I found out about the physician assistant career around 2015. Since then, everything in my academic life has been to work toward getting to physician assistant school," he explained. Training for Paralympics can be very intensive, while his physician's assistant course is demanding too, Martin found a way to juggle between the two without compromising on either. "It’s tough when you have 24 hours in a day, and you have to fit so many things in. I usually try to get up early, around 6 a.m. or so to train. When the weather does not cooperate, I’m forced to wait until after class, which is tough, because we are in class basically from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Sometimes after eight hours, it’s tough, but I convince myself to go to a track, a park outdoors, to go to the gym, all while trying to stay rested. Ideally, I try to fit everything by getting up early or having to cut into my afterschool studying time, which is fine." In Tokyo, he will be competing in the 100-, 400-, and 1500-meter races.
Martin considers his parents Daniel and April Martin, Stephen Hawking, and US teammate Amanda McGrory as his heroes. He currently trains under Adam Bleakney. When he isn't training or studying, he enjoys attending concerts.
The 2020 Paralympic Games (originally scheduled for last year and delayed by the pandemic) will be held two weeks after the Olympics, from August 24 through September 5. You can live stream the Tokyo Paralympics on Team USA website here.