Methow trails prepared Erin Martin for Beijing
The Methow Valley’s connection to the 2022 Winter Olympics extends beyond last month’s Beijing Olympics into the current Paralympic Games. Competing this year is part-time Methow Valley and Seattle resident Erin Martin, who regularly can be found training and sit-skiing the community’s roads and trails.
Martin, 35, qualified for the 2022 Paralympic Games after meeting Team USA criteria at a race in the Bozeman, Montana, in January. She was notified of her placement on the team in late January while in Winthrop training with local Nordic enthusiast and retired veterinarian Betsy Devin-Smith.
Growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Martin has always been enamored with the outdoors in winter. She was a recreational skier who tried cross country but preferred downhill skiing as a child and through her high school years.
Growing in her love of the outdoors, as a young adult in 2005 she moved out west to the Seattle area, taking to the trails and mountains. Hiking and rock climbing becoming true passions. It was that call of the outdoors that changed her life on a summer’s day, July 11, 2013.
She was hiking with a group of friends on Little Si above the Snoqualmie Valley town of North Bend. Martin was traversing a rock face “off-belay,” essentially without ropes and not actively climbing the rock. She lost her footing and slipped, falling about 30 feet and incurring multiple injuries, including a broken arm, several rib fractures and an injury to her spinal cord.
She was transported to Harborview Hospital in Seattle where she spent two weeks in recovery before a month in a nursing home, then on to a five-week stay in the University of Washington’s Rehabilitation Center. After her primary recovery, she returned to her duties as a care coordinator nurse at Children’s Hospital in Seattle.
The spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the chest down, but it is obvious the words “confined to a wheelchair” do not apply to Martin. While that is her primary means of movement, she has re-established her independence and activity through her skiing, has taken up rowing, bicycling and weight training, and blends in totally with the Methow Valley lifestyle, arriving for an interview at the Winthrop Town Trailhead in her late model Subaru Outback.
Her first venture back into competitive athletic activity post-injury was rowing. She connected with a rowing club, “Seize The Oar” at the south end of Lake Washington, and began rebuilding her training base.
Martin also began riding a recumbent, hand-pedaled bicycle, and was eventually introduced to the Nordic version of sit-skiing, starting with cross country and now learning biathlon. “I really love the liberating feeling of being outside and how physically demanding skiing is,” said Martin. “Seeing and experiencing physical improvements is empowering.”
“Nordic skiing is intimidating and kind of scary for me. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone,” Martin added.
Indeed, as she illustrated, there were many skills she had to grasp immediately, like moving forward. “It takes a great deal of arm and upper-body strength,” she said. “With my injury, I don’t have the ability to develop my core, so I need to work totally on arms and upper body.”
There are also other necessary skills, like negotiating turns that are difficult enough standing up on skis, never mind sitting atop a chair mounted to a pair of “skinny” skis. Being able to master those skills, and go fast as well without taking a tumble, works for Martin as a tool of success.
“It’s made me feel more confident, just in general,” she said.
Her introduction to the sitting version of Nordic skiing came only three years ago, in the spring of 2019, which makes her rapid rise to the paralympic level all the more impressive. She said that she is honored to be named to the US Team. “Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch are amazing athletes. To be skiing alongside them is an honor,” she said.
She is quick to also credit her training partner and friend Heather Galeotalanza as a driving force in her rise to the paralympic games. “I could not have done this without her,” Martin said. The two of them have shared more than just the sit-skiing experience. They met for the first time in 2013 while working at Children’s, not long after Martin’s rock climbing accident. Galeotalanza suffered a similar spinal injury, in similar circumstances, while rock climbing with friends, in 2016. Out of that adversity came their shared passion for paraski, traveling frequently to the Methow Valley to ski and train, driving each other toward the thought of competing internationally.
For Galeotalanza, it just didn’t quite work out this year. Environmental conditions and a lack of snow postponed the national qualifier event in Bozeman until later in January from the original date. In the interim, Galeotalanza fell ill to a non-COVID virus and her prolonged recovery from that took her out of that qualifier, erasing her shot at making the 2022 paralympic team.
While Martin is entered in this year’s paralympics only as a sit-skier, she is picking up the biathlon as another event for the future. She competed at the local Chasing the Sun biathlon event in early February, and has not ruled out an attempt to qualify for the 2026 games in Italy in both skiing and biathlon.
Betsy Devin-Smith describes Martin as a “really good biathlete who could have possibly qualified for the games had there been an opportunity.”
“I am so proud of her,” Devin-Smith said of Martin. “I hope for her to have a great experience and look forward to watching her give her very best effort on the international stage. This will help her go forward in so many ways.”
Martin’s first Paralympic event was scheduled for Wednesday morning (March 9 Beijing time) in the 800-meter sprint. She will have a second appearance, in the 7.5K sit-ski, scheduled for Saturday (March 12). Schedules and television listings are available on line at www.nbcolympics.com/schedule.