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Brenda Martinez grew up in a working-class family in Rancho Cucamonga, California. As a preschooler with extra energy, Martinez was only 5 when her mother signed her up for a local youth track club.
In high school, Martinez had a solid career and went on to matriculate at Cal-Riverside becoming the first member of her family to attend and graduate from college. She eventually placed second in the NCAA 1,500 as a junior earning All-American status.
After college, she married Carlos Handler, a former collegiate runner who eventually became her coach. Although she had set numerous records in high school and college, finding an elite running group that would accept her proved difficult. There were times when money was scarce and they had to decide whether to pay the rent or eat.
SPORT: Track and Field 1500M
BORN: September 8, 1987
HOMETOWN: Big Bear Lake, Calif.
HEIGHT: 5 ft 7 in
WEIGHT: 124 lbs
COLLEGE: University of California, Riverside
OLYMPIC MEDALS: None to date
OTHER TITLES/NOTABLE WINS: 2013 World Championships 800M – Bronze Medalist
To make matters worse, Martinez often found it difficult to find a track to train on. Sometimes they resorted to jumping fences to train at high schools at night. In 2011, legendary coach Joe Vigil agreed to train her and Martinez started training under him at Big Bear Lake. After months of meticulous training, Martinez won bronze at the IAAF World Championships in Russia in 2013.
During the 2016 Olympic Trials 1,500 meter final, Martinez came in third by .03 seconds and made the 2016 Olympic Team. “This is my story to share—to not give up on yourself,” says Martinez. “Sometimes you just have to go through hard times to make you appreciate what you have.”
When Martinez isn’t running, she likes to give back to the community and hosts an all-scholarship running camp for local girls at Big Bear Lake.