A rock climbing fall changed her life, but didn’t stop this local Paralympian from living the way she wanted

Erin Martin could have been content to compete in national championships and World Cup Para-Nordic sit-ski events.

But she wanted more.

His experiences of “humility” during these events only added to his motivation.

Martin wanted to be among the best. She wanted to participate in the Paralympic Winter Games.

Using the same determination that helped her return to an outdoor life after an accident left her paralyzed, Martin achieved her goal.

The fact that she will compete in two para-Nordic sitting events at the Paralympic Games in Beijing this month is a testament to her strong will.

“It’s going to be a great week of experience to have such a lofty goal and to be in the moment to see it come to fruition,” said Martin, a registered nurse who works as a care manager at Children’s Hospital. Seattle.

Getting to the Paralympic Winter Games, of course, is a remarkable feat.

Martin’s journey to Beijing began in 2015, when a rock climbing accident fundamentally changed his life. But that certainly didn’t stop her from living the life she wanted.

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Perseverance and Courage

Martin, 35, grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When his mother moved to Seattle in 2005, Martin decided to join her. She was looking for a change and had already considered living in the Pacific Northwest.

The area suited Martin’s outdoor activities. She loved hiking, camping, backpacking, running, biking, and rock climbing.

“I especially loved any excuse to be active outdoors and rock climbing was one of my favorite activities,” Martin said.

She was technically not climbing when she fell in 2015 at the World Wall near the Little Si Trail in North Bend.

“I was traversing from side to side of the wall, so I wasn’t actively climbing,” she explained. “I was going from place to place to start another climb and I slipped and fell.”

She fell approximately 30 feet, suffering life-altering injuries. A T4 spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the middle of her chest down, and she also suffered multiple fractures, including her ribs, femur, shoulder blade, facial bones, vertebrae and front. -arms.

Martin spent two weeks in hospital, followed by a month in a nursing home “because the broken arm left me unable to do rehabilitation because I couldn’t bear weight on it.”

From there, she returned to the hospital for five weeks while she attended rehab before returning home.

Martin doesn’t like to talk about the negative impacts of the injury. Instead, she focuses on what she can do, not what she can’t, but said, “It was hard.”

“It was very difficult and a huge adjustment, but I think it helped that as a nurse I understood what could have happened and the fact that I was lucky to have the injury. that I went through,” she said. “No. 1, I survived the crash; No. 2, I survived it with my brain intact; and third, my injury was such that I was able to live independently and continue to lead an active life thereafter.

“Having that knowledge really helped me cope with the adjustment and made it less difficult than I think it could have been.”

To stay active, Martin took up rowing for several years before fellow Children’s nurse Heather Galeotalanza urged him in early 2019 to try para-Nordic sit-skiing.

Galeotalanza, who also suffered a climbing injury that left her paraplegic, tried para-Nordic skiing in 2018 and thought it would be fun to do it with her friend.

“Once I did it, I really appreciated why (Galeotalanza) loved it so much,” Martin said.

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Lots to learn

Martin saw the Paralympic Winter Games as a long-term goal as soon as she started the sport. That had been her goal as a rower, “but I realized there were some things about my particular disability in the sport that didn’t sit well with me as an athlete.”

But the journey to becoming a Winter Paralympian has not been easy. Martin had enjoyed downhill skiing as a child and as a young adult, but had little cross-country skiing experience and no sitting experience.

Adapting to a new sport was a big challenge.

“One of the hardest parts is steering my sit-ski through the downhill turns,” she said. “I’m sitting in a bucket with two skinny skis with no edges under me and managing my speed and momentum by leaning over and making quick changes of direction with my poles. It also has all the power and aerobic requirements required for standing Nordic skiing.

Martin understood how Nordic skiing took him out of his comfort zone.

“That’s one of the things I really enjoy about Nordic skiing,” Martin said. “It made me face my own fears and discomfort, allowed me to overcome that and move past that. This process has been really great for my confidence and personal growth. And working through that has also makes me a better athlete.

Betsy Devin-Smith, who coaches Martin and Galeotalanza, sometimes sits down to better understand what her students are up against.

“Oh my God, it’s 100 times harder to sit down,” Devin-Smith said. “And when you sit-ski you have to remember that I have my whole body – I have my abdominal muscles and my thigh muscles and all that. Even when I have all of that, when I’m going up a hill , it’s really tough. You have to realize that they’re going up hills and just using their upper body. And Erin is pretty limited in the muscle groups she has.

Martin has progressed enough in that first year to compete at the Nationals in January 2020.

“I was terrified,” Martin said. “I think I placed last in most of the races. The course was at Soldier Hollow in Utah and it was very hilly and much harder than anything I had ever skied before.

The following month, Galeotalanza and Martin competed in a World Cup event in Germany.

“And it was an equally humbling experience,” Martin said. “The terrain was very difficult. Heather and I spent a lot of time at this World Cup talking about where we were as athletes and where we needed to go to be competitive the way we wanted to be. We realized that we had to devote a lot of time to the snow.

Martin made the decision to reduce part-time at Children’s and spend as much time as possible during the winter in Winthrop, where she and Galeotalanza trained with Devin-Smith.

“We planned to spend as much time as possible on the snow the following year to really develop our skills, push our comfort zone, try to gain confidence and adapt to difficult terrain,” Martin said. “We both really wanted to qualify for the Paralympic Games.”

Said Galeotalanza, who now lives in Boston: “I think it’s helped both of us tremendously to have someone to go through the process with because it’s exhausting and challenging, mentally and physically. When you train so much and compete so much, you don’t have much of a social life.

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A dream come true

Martin began to make rapid progress training with Devin-Smith at Winthrop, and the results were much better. She placed third overall in the women’s national championships in Bozeman, Montana on January 1-2, which made her eligible to represent the United States.

It didn’t automatically put her on the team, and Martin said she didn’t sleep the night before team selection on Jan. 31 because she was so nervous.

Martin was thrilled when she found out. His trainer too.

“I was thrilled because she put in so many hours and made so many sacrifices,” Devin-Smith said. “She’s an amazing athlete. She trains super hard, is super focused and she’s put in hundreds of hours. Like any other athlete, how did they get so good?

“She’s a pretty amazing woman. She’s hard working, pays attention to detail and is a diligent, kind, passionate and amazing person.

The only downside is that Galeotalanza wasn’t selected as well, but she’ll support her friend, knowing better than anyone how hard Martin worked to achieve his goal.

“She is extremely determined and committed,” Galeotalanza said. “She really enjoys training, which is important because it’s a lot of training and a huge commitment. She decided to make some sacrifices and she really wanted to.

Martin will compete in two events in Beijing: the sprint (800 meters) on March 9 in China and the 7.5 kilometer race on March 12. It has been worth returning part-time to Children’s, where its current caseload is 45 patients.

What would Martin say to others dealing with life-altering injuries?

“My disability fundamentally changed my life, but there are a lot of unexpected things that happened that actually made my life better,” she said. “It gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been injured. It gave me wonderful friendships and experiences that simply wouldn’t have been possible without my disability.

Virginia F. Goins