Some people work all of their life to gain success. For others, the fruits of their labor come much more quickly. Orange High senior Jaime Martinez definitely falls into the latter category.
In February of his sophomore year, Martinez asked head track and field Coach Lanny Carter if he could come out for the Panthers’ track team as a distance runner. Less than three months later, Martinez was a double winner at the Century League finals, taking honors in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. Weeks after Martinez had turned in one of Orange County’s fastest times in the 1,600 (4 minutes 20 seconds), interested colleges began filling his mailbox.
“It was just amazing,” remembers Ed Cantu, Orange’s cross-country coach. “What can you really say about something like that?”
Since his quick rise to the top among county distance runners, the amiable Martinez has never looked back.
Last fall, in only his first cross-country season, Martinez ran away with the league championship, then raced to the Southern Section Division I-AA title before finishing fourth at the State Championships in Fresno.
What followed a week later was a berth on the Kinney national championships team by virtue of a seventh-place finish in the Western Regional on the same Fresno course. The top eight athletes from each region of the United States compose the four squads participating in the meet.
The Kinney National Championships, which will be called the Foot Locker National Championships beginning Dec. 11, annually attracts the nation’s finest to San Diego’s Morley Field. The athletes are chauffeured around town and spend a week rubbing elbows with not only the nation’s fastest high school runners, but also the elite runners throughout the country such as ex-Arkansas standout Joe Falcon and Bob Kennedy, a recent graduate of Indiana.
“I didn’t think too much about running my race that week,” admitted Martinez, 5 feet 8, 140 pounds.
In what could be the truest showcase of his natural talents, Martinez crossed the finish line first among the West’s team members and 10th overall.
“Jaime was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that whole week, that the pressure really couldn’t have gotten to him,” Cantu said. “He really just went out and had a good time and enjoyed himself during the race.”
The road to the Kinney meet wasn’t as easy as it seemed. For instance, there was that near-fatal first day when Martinez stumbled onto the Orange track.
Wearing Nike court shoes, Martinez gritted his teeth for seven miles in his inaugural run.
“I think I was sore for about a week,” Martinez remembers.
Cantu recalled the immediate respect the young runner earned from his teammates, who had been at this seven-mile task for up to four years.
“The other kids couldn’t believe that they couldn’t shake this guy,” Cantu said.
“Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was a real natural at this.”
The never-say-die attitude Martinez displayed that first day also showed not only what type of athlete he is, but also his true character. Orange High hasn’t been the same since its students discovered the runner’s talents.
“Jaime walks down the hall at school and the other students will ask ‘Jaime, how was your race last weekend?’ or ‘When is your next race?’ ” Cantu said. “It’s a real credit to Jaime that the whole school is so proud of him.”
The word about Martinez has spread beyond the campus. Recently, at a summer road race in Orange, a young boy walked up to his idol and asked if it was really him.
“I was like, ‘How do you know me?’ ” replied the 17-year-old in disbelief.
Said Cantu: “He has had such a positive effect on not only Orange High School, but on the entire community. I think the legacy that he has started here will continue to grow.” The Orange cross-country team captain has spent many hours perfecting other aspects of his life.
He improved his grade-point average from 2.5 to just over 3.0 during his junior year, all the while logging 35 to 40 cross-country miles each week and countless 400-meter intervals around the school’s track . . . all on very little sleep.
Awake at 2:30 a.m., Martinez wraps and delivers newspapers, leaving himself just enough time for breakfast before heading to school.
“Jaime has a real sense of pride in who he is and what he is all about, and a real commitment to everything he does,” Cantu said.
Martinez also has a sense of his surroundings and the people he races against. He follows their exploits while plotting his route to a possible State title.
“Hey,” Martinez says, “that’s my competition. Of course I know them.”
You can bet the competition has a pretty good idea of who Jaime Martinez is as well.