The Pool Is The Ultimate Equalizer For Emmett Martin
by Alex Abrams
Emmett Martin congratulates a fellow swimmer after a race at U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in December. (Photo: Joey Kirkman)
Emmett Martin became a swimmer in the seventh grade after it became apparent that kids didn’t want to throw to him in flag football.
His teammates weren’t sure Martin, who was born missing part of his left arm, could catch the ball with only one hand. As a result, he didn’t get much playing time.
Martin said he could tell he was being discriminated against in flag football. However, once he got into the pool and started swimming, no one cared about his physical impairment.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really feel (the discrimination). But when I got older, I could tell people didn’t really want to give me the ball,” he said. “They were kind of afraid, I think, I couldn’t catch anything. That’s why I came to swim.”
Martin felt free as a swimmer. He’s now staying busy while competing at both the collegiate and elite levels.
Martin, 19, is a 5-foot-11 freshman on the University of Mount Union (Ohio) men’s swimming and diving team. He’s also a Paralympic hopeful who could challenge for a spot in Paris in 2024 with his strength in the breaststroke.
In late December, Martin surprised himself with his strong performance at the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“I thought I was going to drop some time, but I didn’t think I’d be dropping time in every event I did, which I’m very excited for,” Martin said, standing on the pool deck inside the Greensboro Aquatic Center. “I’m also kind of happy (that with) my 100 breaststroke I dropped even more time.”
Martin’s coaches and teammates at Mount Union watched online as he won his first national title in the men’s 50-meter breaststroke. He also earned a bronze in the men’s 200 breaststroke.
Martin said it was “really intimidating” when he looked over prior to the start of the 50-meter breaststroke final and saw Jamal Hill, a bronze medalist at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, preparing to race against him.
It got even more intimidating when the race began, and Hill yelled as he jumped off the blocks and into the pool.
“I was kind of shocked like, wow, I haven’t had that (happen) before,” said Martin, who’s majoring in marketing at Mount Union. “It made me really pumped to swim.”
Martin posted a time of 35.49 seconds in the 50-meter breaststroke prelims, and he swam even faster in the finals at 35.01. Hill finished almost a second behind Martin to take the silver at 35.87 seconds, and Chase Baird earned the bronze at 48.44 seconds.
“I was shocked because I was racing Jamal, and Jamal was a national Paralympian. So, I’m like this is going to be a real tough race, and it was,” Martin said. “At the 35.5 (mark), I could see Jamal to my left of me, and I was like, he’s going to catch up to me. So, I had to kick it into more high gear, and I used whatever energy I had left to beat him.”
Martin said he was left at a hospital in China after being born missing part of his left arm. Janet and Fausto Martin adopted him at age 3 and brought him to the U.S.
He started swimming in junior high school and continued racing through high school.
Someone eventually approached Martin after watching him in the pool and asked if he ever considered competing in Para swimming. He didn’t know anything about it at the time.
Once Martin realized swimming could be a part of his future, he began training harder and stopped skipping practices.
“When I hit my senior year of high school, I was like I’m actually dropping a lot of time,” Martin said. “I think I can do this, and my parents encouraged me to do it.”
Martin said he has enjoyed his first season swimming for Mount Union. He had to help his coaches and teammates understand what he’s capable of with his physical impairment, but they’ve embraced him.
“It’s way different than high school because you have all these people who don’t know anything about (Para). My team didn’t have a Para athlete before, so the coach was brand-new to this,” Martin said.
“The team was new to it. When they saw me, they were actually very encouraging. They always try to help me when I need it, and they don’t discriminate against me.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.