Michael Christian Martinez is bravely treading a path that no Filipino has ever taken. Or better yet, he is gracefully skating on a stage that no Filipino has ever reached before.
The 17-year-old figure skater went from skating inside a Manila mall to performing in the biggest stage in the sport as he carried the Philippine flag at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“It feels great that I'm here representing the Philippines at the Olympics,” Martinez told NBCOlympics.com in an interview. His story is so unique that American media gave him some ink even if they had a lot of athletes competing in the Winter Olympics. “There is a lot of pressure on me because not only am I skating for my country, but for all the hard work I've put in the last four years.”
At nine years of age, Martinez chanced upon skaters inside a rink at a Manila mall. It was love at first sight.
“I saw skaters doing jumps and spins on the rink at the mall,” the teenager remembered. “After the first time I tried it I loved the sport already.” He started training more seriously but he ultimately found out that if he wanted to compete in the international level, he needed to leave Manila for better training.
He flew to Colorado Springs and quickly “saw the difference of how they [U.S. skaters] worked. I saw potential in myself, but realized that I was missing a lot of stuff,” he said.
Martinez’ journey has been unlikely from the very start as he had asthma as a kid, which disabled him from playing other sports that kids his age tried out.
"I literally grew up in the hospital as I was very sick. I couldn't take up any sport. I tried outdoor sports when I was younger, but I easily got asthma attacks so I stopped. I had asthma maintenance medicine when I started skating, since the cold in the rink makes me sick too,” Martinez said. “But year after year my health keeps improving, so my mother fully supported me to continue skating. She said it's better to spend the money on skating than in the hospital."
Martinez also had to buck the high cost of training to get to where he is now. With complete support from his mother Maria Teresa, the skater fought through competitions with sheer talent.
"I just tell him to prepare and pray, because sometimes really we cannot afford to bring the coach. ... I know some skating skills, some techniques, but I'm not as good as, you know, the real coaches. So I told him just pray,” the skater’s mom told CatholicRegister.org.
Martinez received support from some sponsors but it still wasn’t enough forcing his mom to put their house on mortgage.
"Before there was no one to hold on to, only my mom but no one else," said Martinez, a Catholic. "So I'm holding on to God. Every competition I ask him for help and confidence and it really works."
“I feel proud because there are a lot of people that say that because we're a tropical country, we can't do this or we can't do that,” Martinez concluded in the interview with NBCOlympics.com. “But what I say to them is them is that I'll be the first one to skate in the Olympics. I’m proud of that.”