When Jim Martinson woke up in a Japanese hospital on July 4, 1968, he was certain he’d never ski again.
“I knew that without knees it was pretty much impossible,” he said.
Five days earlier, Martinson was serving in Vietnam. Somebody triggered a landmine and Martinson, just two years after graduating Sumner High, had both legs severely damaged by the blast. Doctors couldn’t save either leg.
There are a lot of things I would like to do but can’t do. But I’ve accepted that. So, the things I can do, I try to do really well.
Jim Martinson, Hall of Fame athlete
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Today Martinson, 69, lives in Puyallup and is one of the state’s most accomplished athletes. He won gold medals in the summer and winter Paralympics. He participated in the 2009 X Games. He competed in a wheelchair exhibition race at the 1984 Summer Olympics. And he won the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon in 1981.
And Saturday, he will receive the highest honor from the sport he once thought he’d never again experience: he will become a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame’s class of 2016.
Martinson grew up skiing at Mount Rainier before his favorite ski area, Crystal Mountain, opened. He needed 18 years and plenty of ingenuity before he could ski again after his accident.
Since then, he has made a career out of designing lightweight wheelchairs for a variety of sports. He designed the sit skis on which he glides down the slopes. In fact, he says three paraplegic athletes in the hall of fame used sit skis that he designed.
A few days before Martinson left for Aspen, Colorado, for the induction ceremony, he took time to field a few questions.
Q: How many halls of fame is this for you?
A: I’m actually in the Wheelchair Hall of Fame. And, you know, there’s so many of them I need to write them down. I’ve just always been involved in stuff. There’s another ski hall of fame, but it’s for disabled skiers. This (U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame) is the big one. Able-bodied and everything. Others are directed specifically to wheelchair athletes. And then the Pierce County Hall of Fame. That was one of the first ones.
Q: Of all the sports you do, is there one you enjoy most?
A: Obviously skiing, because it’s something I never thought I could do after I lost my legs. I started playing wheelchair basketball. Then it went to wheelchair track. Then road racing in a wheelchair. And then skiing. I didn’t even start skiing for about 20 years after my injury. I stood-up skied for years (before the injury) and was good. It was something I wanted to get really involved with. Ski racing or ski patrol.
Q: What is your favorite run at Crystal?
A: I really like going up north, especially if it is a powder day. I love Powder Bowl or Campbell Basin.
Q: How do you get to some of the areas that require hiking?
A: I traverse pretty well. Sometimes it’s a struggle. I’ve had times where I’d get out of the ski and crawl for a ways then get back in. And somebody might carry it up. But I don’t do it a lot.
Q: How often do you use the Jim Martinson exercise trail at Wildwood Park?
A: It’s hard to use because it’s not wheelchair-friendly. It gets muddy and it is pretty tough. I’ve done it a few times in the summer or I walk it on my prosthetics. It’s not a user-friendly trail, but it was a nice idea.
Q: Any other competitions on the horizon for you?
A: I’m going to go back to the VA Games in Utah this summer and do my last one. A friend challenged me because they are going to do a triathlon. I’ve never done a triathlon. The racing wheelchair I’ll do really well. The hand cycle I’ll do really well. I have no idea how I’ll do in the swim. I love to swim, but I like to swim up to the boat when I’m water skiing. It’s going to be fun.
Q: Have you found anything you can’t do?
A: Yeah, ski up a mountain with my ski. There are a lot of things I would like to do but can’t do. But I’ve accepted that. So, the things I can do, I try to do really well.
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