Olympic Runner Who Once Couldn't Afford Shoes Now Donates Kicks To Kids

She's won us over!
Brenda Martinez
Brenda Martinez
Ivan Sekretarev/AP

Brenda Martinez’s drive runs deep.

When the 28-year-old Olympian was a young girl training in track and field, she was unable to afford running shoes. Now, she’s competing on the U.S. team in the women’s 1,500-meter race in Rio this August.

“I remember when I was young and my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a new pair of running shoes,” Martinez wrote on Instagram. “The shoes I wore to school were the same shoes I wore to practice. My father would always try to find running shoes on the clearance rack. I’m donating back to the sport that gave me a fighting chance in the world.”

Now with the help of New Balance, her sponsor, she’s giving free shoes to young runners.

When Martinez was a 5-year-old girl growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, California, she was bursting with energy, she told Runner’s World. A friend of her mother’s suggested putting Martinez in a track club. Her mother took her friend’s advice and Martinez’s coaches soon realized that the little girl had a talent for long distance running.

Martinez continued running while she attended college at UC Riverside, and was named All-American three times, according to Runner’s World.

College was also where Martinez met her husband, Carlos Handler, a former UC Riverside running star.

A photo posted by BRENDA MARTINEZ (@bmartrun) on

Yet, despite her accomplishments during college, when Martinez graduated from UC Riverside she was turned down by two high-profile training groups, according to Orange County Register. The rejection put her dreams of having a post-collegiate running career on hold, but she wouldn’t give up.

Handler even gave up his running career to help pay the bills.

“I couldn’t be selfish and I knew Brenda could do it,” Handler told the the Register.

A photo posted by BRENDA MARTINEZ (@bmartrun) on

Times were tough for the couple.

“We were late on rent and shopping at the 99 Cent store,” Martinez told Competitor.com. “Carlos was cleaning houses, taking little jobs. We were doing whatever we could to make it.”

Eventually Martinez got a sponsorship with New Balance and the couple was introduced to Joe Vigil, a legendary coach who believed in Martinez’s talent and offered to coach her. With Vigil’s support, Martinez won the bronze medal for the 800m at the World Championships in 2013, according to Competitor.com.

In 2016, during the Olympic trails, Martinez was poised to qualify for two events — the 800m run and the 1500m run.

Yet, while running an 800m race, her feet tangled with a competitor’s as she tripped and fell to the floor, The Seattle Times reported. Martinez stayed on her feet, but the stumble caused her to lose her momentum, and she didn’t qualify.

But on July 10, she qualified for the 1500m, beating Amanda Eccleston by a fraction of a second in a dramatic photo finish, according to The Seattle Times:

Martinez was elated to make the U.S. Olympic team.

The joy of making an Olympic team #roadtorio #olympics #tracktown16 @nbrunning @newbalanceus @newbalance

A photo posted by James Carney (@jamescarney24) on

Aside from her tenacity, the Olympian also has a heart of gold.

For the past four years, Martinez has hosted an annual summer camp for 10 to 12 female high school runners, she described to FloTrack.

The camp includes daily runs and clinics about confidence, healthy living and positive thinking.

Martinez and Handler cover all expenses, including meals, and even personally pick the girls up when they arrive in couple’s town of Big Bear Lake, California.

Martinez, however, does let her sponsor help out a little bit.

New Balance provides each camper with workout clothes and three pairs of shoes — gear Martinez couldn’t afford as a kid.

“These are the girls that I definitely look up to,” Martinez told New Balance in the video below. “If in the middle of a work out I’m having a hard time, my husband will yell, ‘How many little girls do you want to motivate? How many people do you want to help?’ I just dig deep and find a way to finish.”

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