Phone interviews are always an interesting experience for me. Not only are you asking someone to share their life story to a complete stranger, but also there are those awkward silences, followed by a “Can you hear me now?” that make it that much more interesting.
However, the moment that Brenda Martinez picked up the other line, I instantly felt a connection as if we were two girlfriends catching up on lost time. Her energy and vibrant personality was easily felt, and when we finished our conversation I immediately thought, “Wow, I hope to meet her someday.”
I’m a fan. And I am sure many others feel the exact same way.
Martinez displayed a unique amount of humility, despite achieving much success for a reasonably young career. Just last August she won a bronze medal in the 800 meters at the I.A.A.F World Championship in Moscow, becoming the first American to ever medal in the event.
Today, Martinez is hungrier than ever striving to meet her ultimate goal, Brazil in 2016. This journey started before she could tie her own shoes and she's been on the run ever since. Here's our Q & A:
(LB): What was your path like to get to where you are today?
(Martinez): “I started when I was five and my parents put me in an after-school program. I was pretty bad when I was little so my parents would hit me with the belt. My mom would chase me around and luckily my grandpa lived next door to us so I would run there. As a form of discipline they suggested to put me in track to run as punishment. I think at the time, who would have thought that it would turn into something? But I fell in love with it and she would take me to practice twice a week, put all our trust in the coach and I haven’t stopped since.”
(LB): Do you remember your first time out on the track?
(Martinez): “My first race was the 100-meter dash and it was held at Long Beach State. I was just 5 years old, and didn’t have a uniform yet, just my regular clothes with flowers on my shorts. I got smoked big time and from there on they put me in middle distance like the 800 meters and 1500. As first I was kind of discouraged but explored other events and it opened my eyes a lot growing up, and I've been doing it ever since for 20 years.
(LB): Who in your life encouraged you to continue running?
(Martinez): My parents and my coach have always encouraged me to continue. They saw that I fell in love with the sport and I love competing so they are very supportive of it.”
(LB): What continues to fuel you as a competitor and athlete?
(Martinez): “I think just simply competing and knowing I can make it through the work building up to the races. I love to win, so just that feeling is great and every year I try to stay motivated and stay hungry. My goal is to make the Olympic team in 2016. I just want to improve.”
(LB): You’ve been fortunate to travel the world through competing, where are some of the best places you have been to?
(Martinez): “I’ve been to Europe a lot and when I go I spend up to two months there at a time and living from hotel to hotel, going to different meets and being able to travel around the cities, I love it. Switzerland, Sweden, Moscow, Italy, London, Belgium have been some of my favorite places. Probably most of Europe I have traveled to, so I definitely feel grateful for it and try not to take things for granted. However, my job is to get ready for races, compete and get the job done while I am there.”
(LB): Do you see yourself as a role model for young Latinas?
(Martinez): “I would like to think I am a role model. I hope whatever I am doing it is reaching out to people, and reaching out to the Latino community as well. There’s not that many Latinas in my sport. I’m grateful for it and I’ll do my best to promote it.
(LB): “How do you try to reach out to the community?
(Martinez): “I have a summer camp that is held every summer at Big Bear Altitude Training Camp (Calif.). It’s about three days over a weekend. I usually do it right after USA Nationals, around July. It’s in Big Bear Lake, my current residence. The camp is only for girls, and in order to attend I have a writing contest throughout the year. I pick about five girls to spend the weekend with me up in a cabin and plan a lot of different bonding activities throughout the weekend. I think I can improve on it this year I want to expand and pick 10 girls and improve the attendance! I just try to get this year to believe in themselves.”
(LB): How did you get the word out about your camp?
(Martinez): “I got the word out by passing out fliers at a cross country meet and promoted the camp. For the writing contest I had them write about their life stories and express themselves, then I picked five people based off of that.”
(LB): What are some of the activities you plan for the girls?
(Martinez): “Throughout the week, each girl gets four pairs of new shoes, a lot of them can’t even afford running shoes, work out clothes, a new blender, a smoothie recipe book, and lots of giveaways. I gave them each a copy of the book The Secret. It may sound cheesy but it gave me life again. If you’re not believing you can’t achieve it, and I really wanted to show them that. During the camp we watched 'The secret,' practiced laws of attraction and positive thinking. These girls are great friends now and they compete against each other so it’s nice to see.”
(LB): What do you think this camp means to these young girls?
(Martinez): “Hopefully for them I hope it can impact their life some way small or big. If I can just do that and make them believe in themselves it’s great! The girls I have mentored have gained more confidence from it. It was a very memorable time to spend time with them, because a month after our camp I won a bronze medal. I feel like it made the girls really believe in what I was saying about positive attraction.”
(LB): On top of all it all, you’re still training, what is your usual training schedule?
(Martinez): “It’s a lot about getting the mileage up and strength up. Doing a lot of drills, the closer we get to racing we want to be fresher. I train every other day so we are running twice a day, so right now I am always doing something to keep the legs going. At times it gets overwhelming, but when I get through a training session or finish a race it’s worth it.
(LB): Do you have any pre race rituals?
(Martinez): “I like to eat a steak before my race the night before, sirloin steak and veggies. I keep it simple and the day of the race I try to stay off my feet. I also like to watch the movie Pretty Woman and it gets me in a good mood before race time. “
(LB): Do you like the extra visibility that comes with being a track star like making appearances, fans, etc?
(Martinez): “I think just trying to promote the sport more and motivate the youth and telling people my story, that it can be done, just believe and don’t quit what you are doing. Hard work does pay off and it’s always different topics, but the main point is for them to believe in themselves.”
(LB): What kind of person are you off the track and what do you like go do?
(Martinez): Well I have been married for about a year, he used to be an athlete, and now he helps coach me and is my facilitator for workouts. It was tough to get used to having my husband kind of act as a coach next Dr. Joe Vigil but now and we handle it better. We are together 24/7 between training and everything else. We watch a lot of Netflix and barbecue with friends. We have three dogs so we have to entertain them a lot, they are like our kids.”
(LB): What are some personal goals you still are looking to accomplish?
(Martinez): “Olympics is of course a goal, obviously doing something in the world championships in Beijing and just try my best for every year. Each year is the stepping stones to improve my time.”
(LB): What was your experience winning bronze in Moscow 2013?
(Martinez): “It was very emotional because every day just seemed like a fight and every day it was very tough training. I just tried to stay committed and do my best. It was very hard just leading up to it and once I finished up I was relieved. A lot of emotions were going through my mind. I didn’t even know I won the bonze until about two minutes after I got done with the race. There were two huge screens on the track and we couldn’t really tell the placing and it wasn’t until someone was yelling at me to get the American flag that I realized I had won. I couldn’t believe it and I just started crying.”
(LB): What was that very moment like for you, running around the track with the American flag, realizing what you had just accomplished?
(Martinez): “When I got the flag I was shaking and I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I would medal so early in my career, I knew it was a possibility but the 800 was such a hard event and I realized I was the first American to ever medal in the 800 (in the world championships) it was crazy. Everyone was crying and I will never forget it. It was such a special moment for me in my career. “
(LB): So what’s next for you?
(Martinez): “I’m not racing until March so just spending time building and getting strong for the season. I’m thinking about doing an 8k in New Orleans so that should be fun! My husband will do it with me and some of my teammates will probably compete, too.