His Biggest Hurdle Was Not on the Track
John Martel of the Santa Cruz Track Club had to defeat 1997 WAVA champion Marion Sanchez and Jim Stookey, 1996 Masters Men's Athlete of the Year, to win his age group's national championship in the 100m hurdles at the 1997 Masters Championships in San Jose. He had never defeated either of them in six years of competition as a masters athlete.
But that's not the story.
In 1991, at the end of his first year of competition as a master, Martel suffered a LisFratic foot injury at the Club West Meet in Santa Barbara, Calif. His team of surgeons described the injury its an "exploded foot." It was so shattered that they had to put his left foot under a fluoroscope and reconstruct his right foot, using his left as a model before drilling and inserting metal to hold what wits left of his metatarsal bones together and re-attach them to the main major arch tendon. He wits told he might be able to jog again, perhaps even play doubles tennis.
Breaking the "Bad" News
Before he came off crutches seven months later, Martel began work on a stationary bicycle and broke the bad news to his wife that he would be making a comeback after a year of convalescence, Not in doubles tennis, not in racewalkinging or a throwing event. He would run the high hurdles. Once off the crutches, he began a training program consisting of the stationary bike, Stairmaster, and the weights. In 1993. he did come back, and by 1994 was cruising for it silver medal in the Nationals at Eugene when he hit the last hurdle, badly spraining his left ankle and crawling across the finish line for fourth place. His 1995 and 1996 years were plagued with hamstring and plantar fisciitis injuries, though he was running close to his 1991 personal best of 17.6.
His workout regimen during the '96 season consisted of weights and running in a redwood grove near his home in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, hurdle drills with teammate M40 Don Roberts and workouts with the SCTC. He interspersed 400m "sprints" on soft ground with high-skipping and other plyometric drills.
"Running the hurdles is not much about speed as it is power and rhythm," says Martel. "I knew that if I could three step at least nine of the ten hurdles I could medal at the Nationals. I thought that if I could do those things find run faster than I ever did, I could win the gold."
How Did He Do That?
Martel won the race on a warm Saturday afternoon, with a 16.69, probably the fastest for his age group's time in the world in 1997. How did he get faster?
"Ten days before the Nationals, a five-day business trip took me to Hawaii, usually a great place to go but the last place I wanted to be in at that particular time," said Martel. "I asked Coach Marty Kruger what I should do and how I could best avail myself off nearby golf course."
Kruger surprised him. "Find a gentle downslope and do nothing but run downhill. Run in bursts of 200 meters, walk back and do it over again for about 45 minutes," he told Martel.
The advice surprised Martel, but its an ex-U.S. Air Force pilot (1951-55), he was used to following orders. He credits Kruger's words with improving his "turnover" speed. When he was warming up just before the race in San Jose, he had to check the marks on the track to be sure the hurdles weren't spaced too close together.
"I knew at that minute that I might be able to do it," said Martel.
He describes his high school and collegiate athletic career as that of a "decent journeyman athlete, nothing special." He lettered in football, basketball, and track at Modesto Junior College and played basketball at the University of Oregon. His planned 1950 track season at Eugene was interrupted by the Korean War.
An Accomplished Career
After the service, Martel focused on his studies, which have served him pretty well. He has been described by the National Law Journal as one of the top ten trial lawyers in the U.S. He is a member of the Board of Regents of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has tried 100 jury trials, 96 of them victories.
He is author of the best-selling novel Partners (Bantam, 1988) and
Conflicts of Interest(Pocket Books, 1995). He is currently finishing his third novel, which he considers his best yet.
So, which of his major accomplishment is he most proud of?
"Winning the gold in San Jose, of course. Nothing else is even close."