Martinez, along with a record-breaking ensemble of the world’s best para-surfers, competed undeterred by rain, and at times, torrential downpours. Team Spain won their first gold while Team USA, Team Brazil, and Team Hawaii won silver, bronze, and copper respectively.
“AmpSurf ISA World Para Surfing Championship celebrates the healing powers of the ocean and surfing,” said Fernando Aguerre, president of ISA. “Competitors with physical challenges share their experiences with those from on the other side of the world. The world’s best para surfers represent their nations, display their talent, and pursue gold medals on a global stage.”
Athletes, classified by their physical challenges in order to keep the playing field level, consisted of teams of eight men and women. Aguerre noted that every competitor sports a unique journey of courage and perseverance.
“We see a variety of athletes, some who have lost limbs to shark attacks, to those who surf blind,” he continued. “Each story is unique, but the love and shared joy of surfing brings everyone together. The athletes in this world championship are amazing surfers and extremely talented.”
“AmpSurf was amazing,” added Martinez. “We were in heaven. The weather added an element of excitement, but that’s the bar of getting in the water. You could be hit with a tsunami or the surf could be calm. It seemed to pummel rain every time I got in.”
What began as a grassroots movement in 2015 – 69 athletes from 18 nations – the 2020 AmpSurf ISA World Championships united140 athletes from 24 nations.
“Founded in 1964, ISA is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the World Governing Authority for Surfing,” explained Aguerre. “Our mission is to make the world a better place through surfing. A key piece of that puzzle is growing and developing the sport worldwide via world championships.
“Having crowned surfing world champions for over 50 years, it was only natural to transcend into the Para Surfing realm and crown world champions,” he continued. “We started this event in 2015 to provide this platform for these athletes to shine.”
“It’s important to show the world the capabilities we have within ourselves,” said Martinez. “This event shows everyone how amazing we can be. We’re achieving above and beyond what many thought we could. I placed third in the world and I have many more medals yet to win.”
“Surfing’s a fun, unique, and special sport,” said Aguerre. “Those who ride waves can attest to the joy and connection to nature that it creates. If everyone surfed, the world would be a better, more peaceful place.”
Thirty-one-year-old Martinez began his journey into AmpSurf upon dedicating his life to serve his country.
Driven by a need to be “selfless,” Martinez joined the U.S. Army, intending to make this a lifelong career.
“What’s more selfless than giving my life to protect to the rest of the world?” he asked.
In 2012, four months into his first deployment in Afghanistan, Martinez stepped on a 60-pound IED intended to destroy a vehicle. The explosion completely severed his right leg. His left leg and right arm remained barely attached. Army “brothers” immediately descended, including a medic “who worked to close me up as fast as he could.”
“I told everybody – this is my time to die,” he said. “Tell my mom I was a hero. I was slapped and told to shut up. I didn’t think I’d make it past seeing my brothers.”
Martinez woke up 10 days later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“I woke up thinking it was all a dream,” he said. “I closed my eyes again, hoping to wake up in Afghanistan.”
Martinez quickly realized that he was “a new me, one that I had to figure out.” As a hip disarticulate, doctors had little hope of him ever walking again. Depression became constant.
“I thought my soul would let me die or my brain would let me fail and die,” he said. “I wasn’t suicidal. I just thought I’d disintegrate.”
Martinez spent the next four months enduring 10 surgeries at Walter Reed before heading to San Diego’s Balboa Naval Medical Center to complete nine more before heading into intense rehabilitation.
Randy Whiteside became the first of many rehab health care providers to set the Army man walking.
“I cried to Randy, ‘Sir, they said I’ll never walk again, can you please help me?’” said Martinez. “He said, ‘You just walked through the door, so what’s the problem? Now, let me take care of the rest.’”
Martinez was walking within six months. Under the guidance of the Medical Center’s Nurse Betty, the pool followed suit.
“It took me three hours to swim 50 meters,” explained Martinez. “I felt so weird. I could’ve crawled faster. But I didn’t give up. I couldn’t. My support team – my girlfriend now wife, my family, my friends, my therapists and Betty wouldn’t let me.”
Martinez lauds each dedicated health care provider who worked “diligently to remind me that I’m still strong and I can do things.”
Although Martinez never surfed before his injury, he was hooked at first push. The dynamo plans to become the world’s best adaptive surfer.
“Surfing’s my platform to show the world that everyone has the ability to do something better, even if we’re bad in the beginning,” he said.
Despite snapping two boards during his first competition and almost losing a crew member who got swallowed by a wave, Martinez remains consistent in the gym and surfs three times a week – four to five prior to competing – to be able to one day surf 15, 20 even 25-foot waves.
“I’ll never stop surfing,” he said. “I’ll keep moving forward, crushing goals and winning.”
Martinez is also determined to become one of the greatest motivational speakers in the world.
“I’ll not only speak to the world, I’ll show everyone what they can do,” he said. “I won’t yell advice, ‘you can do it,’ while taking your money. I’ll be different because I’m a winner. I’ll take my legs off and show you how to walk. And then I’ll show you how to fly.”
Martinez admits that it’s painful to walk on his prosthetics.
“Walking for two-plus hours cuts into my waist and sides, causing me to bleed, sometimes a lot,” he explained. “But I walk for everyone else. I walk to see everyone smile. I walk to give others inspiration and admiration. People in wheelchairs thank me for giving them hope. I walk to give everyone a reason to look up from their phone.”
While dedicating his success to his wife, “who roots for me every single second of the way,” the talent harbors no regret for his service in the Army.
“My service in the Army made me the person that I am today,” he said. “I’m here to serve a bigger purpose; to show everyone that there’s nothing that they can’t do. I’m here to remind people how powerful they truly are.
“I’m here to show you how amazing you can be and that nothing is unstoppable,” he concluded.