They may be top of the world now, but what led the current crop of Paralympic and world champions to get involved in para-sport to begin with?
In this new monthly series we ask our ‘Ones to Watch’ athletes to explain what led them to take up para-athletics, and to describe the path they followed on their way to victory and success.
The USA’s Raymond Martin will be the man to beat in the T52 class at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, having won four titles at London 2012 in addition to eight world titles since 2013. Here is his story:
He may be only 22-years-old, but Raymond Martin already finds it hard to recall a time when he wasn’t racing.
The multiple world and Paralympic champion was at kindergarten in New Jersey, USA, when he first got into a racing chair. But it wasn’t until he was in his late teens that he stepped up to elite level racing.
As a five-year-old attending a school for children with disabilities, Martin was in gym class one day when the coach suggested he try out a racing chair.
“I was like ‘Sure!’ and ever since then I have loved it,” Martin explained.
“I remember feeling really excited because I had this old clunky chair that weighed 30 pounds and I just wasn’t very mobile. Then I got into a racing chair and it felt totally different. It felt like I could actually do something that all the other kids were doing. I remember being excited every day.”
By the time Martin was 10-years-old he had his own specialised chair, and had hooked up with North Jersey Navigators coach Jimmy Cuedas.
Martin competed for his school team and at local competitions, but despite suffering a losing streak that went on for several years, he persisted. That competitive nature was the driving force that kept Martin going as he strove to improve - and to win. Finally in 2010 his hard work and perseverance paid off.
Selected for the 2010 Junior World Games in the Czech Republic, he was required to share a room with Sean Burns - the athlete who had, up until then, been his nemesis.
“We didn’t really speak to each other during that whole period, then we went to the Junior World Games and my coach thought it was a hilarious idea to put us in the same room together,” explained Martin.
“We were both super competitive and we were both really shy at the time, so there was just the silence that we were not going to acknowledge each other.
“Then once you are forced to room with someone for two weeks you can’t really ignore them. We became best friends almost immediately. He’s a great guy and he really pushed me to be better.”
Martin won two bronze medals, but the competition was a turning point in more ways than one.
“It was a combined event so there was also swimming there,” explained Martin. “There was a swimmer there who was actually very promising - he had already been brought in to the training centre in preparation for the London Games.
“He was talking to one of my long-time friends and he said something along the lines of ‘He has no Paralympic potential’. My friend told me, and that really set a fire underneath me.
“That is actually the point when I sat down with Jimmy and said ‘I want to make the Paralympic Games, I will do whatever it takes.’”
By 2011, Martin and his coach had a training programme to follow - they also changed his position in his chair.
“We needed to fix my seated position because my stroke was very inefficient. Once we did that it was just like magic,” acknowledged Martin, who went on to win two golds and two silvers at the 2011 Parapan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico - his first senior international competition.
“That is when Jimmy and the coaches on the US team realised that I had some potential. It was a very good experience and I always tell newcomers to the US team that the Parapans is a great first meet because it teaches you how to win.”
Like the Junior World Games the year before, the Parapan Am Games had provided another crucial springboard.
“It really set the tone for my season in 2012. It was a quick turnover because the Parapans were in November then the London Games were the following September. But I was young and I had a lot of energy so I just went straight into training for London.”
Martin came away from London 2012 with a phenomenal four gold medals - and hasn’t looked back. Not only has para-athletics brought him Paralympic and world titles, Martin believes the sport shaped him into the person he has become.
“It really helped me grow up as a person. It brought me out of my shell, it helped me understand disability. I think I would be a totally different person without sport – so I’m kind of glad I got in to it.”
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.