Martinez takes the long road, and finds his calling

Former San Benito High and Hartnell College standout Frankie Martinez took 8th place in the hammer throw in the NAIA Championships.

Frankie Martinez has attended just one semester at the University of Southwest in New Mexico, but he’s already made a huge impact. At the USW athletics banquet, Martinez was named the school’s Overall Athlete of the Year to go along with the Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year honor.
That’s what happens when you break a half-dozen school records and become an All-American as Martinez accomplished this past season. At the NAIA Nationals on May 26 to 28 in Alabama, the 5-foot-9, 250-pound Martinez finished eighth in the hammer throw with a personal-record mark of 54.72 meters.
“I was thinking about just getting to the finals to be honest,” said Martinez, a 2010 San Benito High graduate. “I just knew I had to be determined, because that is what has gotten me through things my whole life.”
It’s a testament that Martinez was even in a position to compete in the nationals. After all, his athletic career was seemingly on life support after he used up his athletic eligibility at Hartnell in 2012—Martinez did not transfer for another couple of years—and again after he made the decision not to compete for Cal State Stanislaus following the 2015 season.
“When I was going through those off years where I didn’t have a school to be at, I felt like God had a plan,” he said. “I just had to stick through it.”
And that’s exactly what Martinez did. A mid-year transfer to USW in January turned out to be one of the best decisions Martinez has ever made. Not only did Martinez end his final collegiate season on a high note, but it also gave him a path toward the future. Martinez will be going back to USW next month to complete his bachelor’s degree before starting his master’s as a graduate assistant.
He’ll be serving as a student-coach next year as he progresses toward his master’s in kinesiology, with the goal of becoming a coach. That’s because countless coaches have helped Martinez over the years, and he’s grateful and appreciative of the positive influence they had to help him get to this point.
It all started with one of Martinez’s coaches at Rancho San Justo, who convinced him that he had a bright future in the sport. Later on, it was former San Benito High cross-country coach Jess Morales who helped instill in Martinez a mental toughness to hammer through workouts and aspire for big goals.
Despite having a heavier build, Martinez ran cross country in his junior and senior years just to prove something to himself and the naysayers who said he wouldn’t amount to much.
“I did it to prove to everybody that I did have conditioning,” said Martinez, who played football in his freshman and sophomore years. “Coach Morales helped me a lot because he taught me everyone from Hollister has heart. That was instilled in me, and it gave me a winning mentality.”
Martinez went from 220 pounds as a sophomore to 180 as a junior. His best event in track and field was the discus, where he threw it 149 feet, 4 inches to take third in the Central Coast Section Championships and advance to state his senior year. Martinez competed for the next two years at Hartnell under renowned coach Chris Zepeda.
“Coach Z guided me and always tried to connect me to the bigger schools,” he said. “When I decided to go to Southwest, he told me to get a 4.0 (GPA), go to nationals, get All American and set records,” Martinez said. “I told him I don’t know if I can do that. But I did. I had the self discipline not to go to parties or go out on school night. I did my homework and got lots and lots of rest. I had that mentality that if there was something I needed to do, I got it done.”
Did he ever. In the Red River Conference Championships, Martinez earned the most points of any field event athlete despite not being able to compete in his best event (the conference doesn’t hold a championship for the hammer throw). Martinez won the discus and shot put while finishing fourth in the javelin.
Martinez owes a lot to USW assistant track and field coach and head strength and conditioning coach Jessica Becker, who recruited Martinez for years—first when Martinez was at San Benito High and then when he competed at Hartnell.
“It was pretty funny she chased me for so long, but I’m glad she did,” Martinez said. “I was pretty fortunate she found me after I said no the second time. It turned out to be a really good match because she is a heck of a coach. Coach Becker was a great fit for me because even though she’s all about strength, she knows a lot about technique. That helps a guy like me throw everything farther.”
Martinez said technique played a critical role when he unleashed his hammer throw PR at nationals.
“Compared to the other guys who throw the hammer, I’m undersized by a lot,” he said. “The average thrower is 6-2 and above. I’m barely 5-9 on a good day, so I have to generate more power with technique and have more determination.”
At San Benito High, Martinez’s best event was the discus. He finished third in that event in the CCS Championships during his senior year, advancing to the CIF State Meet in the process. At Hartnell, Martinez flourished in the hammer throw and discus.
In the 2015 season at Cal State Stanislaus, Martinez competed in the discus, hammer throw and shot put. Martinez said Art Soza, who is an assistant coach on the San Benito High track and field team, helped him to get through a particularly tough time in his life.
“I had trouble with my environment growing up and in high school,” Martinez said. “A lot of people around me were getting in trouble, and he was a motivator for me not to get in trouble. He didn’t allow me to give up on myself.”
Martinez said he was at a cemetery recently and saw names of four people he used to hang out with growing up. At that moment, Martinez realized that could’ve easily been his fate.
“A lot of people I hung out with got sent to San Andreas (Continuation High School) or to juvenile hall,” he said. “Even some of my family members were involved in gangs. It was literally either track and field or I would’ve ended up on the wrong route.”
Martinez’s life could have gone in a different direction at so many points along the way. Even when Martinez was excelling in high school athletics, some people told him he should quit sports and focus on working. Martinez vividly remembers a moment during his sophomore season at San Benito when he came to a meet in ragged clothes, with people laughing at him.
“That’s when I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this,’” he said. “I was lucky to have people who cared about me and wanted nothing but the best for me. I want to help people in a similar way.”

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