McALLEN — McAllen High’s Josiah Martinez has a different way of overcoming obstacles.
The senior pole vaulter has encountered difficulties throughout his track career that have motivated him into becoming a better athlete, while setting personal records along the way. Martinez is third in the state, and sixth in the nation with a vault of 16 feet and he still hopes to capture a state championship, if the UIL state track meet takes place.
Martinez also shines in the 110-meter hurdles, where he is ranked number one in the Valley and ranked second in the region with his personal record of 14.84 seconds.
“Josiah is one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached,” boys head track coach Bob Bechtold said. “He’s gone through so much in his athletic career. He doesn’t let stuff get in his way.”
Martinez lost his personal pole vault trainer, Gene Riley, a week after the area meet his freshman year. Riley died in an accident from a construction company he owned. He was in a coma for a week before taken off life support, Martinez said.
“After Riley’s passing, (McAllen High pole vault) coach (Louie) Cantu and I had no idea what to do,” Martinez said. “We learned everything that we know from Riley. We didn’t know what to do, so we kind of just kept practicing.” Martinez made it to regionals his freshman year but did not hit the mark he expected. “I hit a stump for a while after Mr. Riley’s passing,” Martinez said.
Martinez encountered both physical and emotional challenges his sophomore year. He strained his hip flexor and tore his quad, causing him to stop running hurdles, due to the pain, and focus on the vault. “I was still able to do a PR (personal record) during my injuries,” Martinez said.
During the area meet that season, Martinez’s parents received a phone call that his grandfather, Xavier Romeros, suffered a heart attack during his flight back from Las Vegas, causing an emergency landing in El Paso. “I had to finish vaulting knowing that my grandpa just had a heart attack and not knowing how he was,” Martinez said.
Romeros died after being placed on life support. Martinez competed in the regional track meet the same day as his grandfather’s funeral.
“My parents told me to choose whether to go to the funeral or my regional track meet,” Martinez said. “And I chose to go to the regional track meet because my grandpa loved to see me pole vault.”
He hit a personal record at regionals with a 15-1 vault.
“We were all there for him that day,” Bechtold said. “From the few times that I talked to Mr. Romeros, he always was so proud of Josiah so I agreed with his decision on competing in the meet instead of attending the funeral because I am sure his grandfather did not want to be the reason why he wasn’t able to compete.”
The obstacles continued his junior year. Martinez dislocated his ankle after a vault at the Meet of Champions, ending his season early. “Everything was going great,” Martinez said. “I was being consistent on my vaults.” He set a personal record one meet earlier in Sharyland, with a 15-2.
“I think his past experiences motivated him to become a better athlete,” Bechtold said. “What he went through and his losses made him stronger, instead of it affecting him, it motivated him.”
Before his senior year got put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, Martinez set another personal record of 16-0 at the Sharyland meet on March 13, the final meet before the virus interrupted the season. That vault is what has him ranked third in the state and sixth in the nation.
Martinez started his pole vault career in seventh grade.
“I had no idea what pole vault was, Coach Cantu introduced me to it, so I just decided to give it a try and I ended up loving it,” Martinez said. In seventh grade, he vaulted 9-6 and in eighth grade, he cleared 13-2. In his first high school track meet as a freshman, he did a 14-4, making him the number one vaulter in the nation in his age group, Martinez said.
“I felt like Riley helped me a lot,” Martinez said. “He made me improve from seventh grade to freshman year; it was a big jump from someone who had no idea how pole vault worked.”
Despite battling obstacles, Martinez caught colleges’ attention and signed with University of Incarnate Word on Jan. 31, where he will continue his education and track career.
“He is able to push through, I haven’t seen anything hold him down, not even a dislocated ankle,” Bechtold said.
Not only does Martinez focus on making himself better every day, he also strives to help others.
“He started helping coach Cantu with the younger vaulters,” Bechtold said. “He helps the middle school vaulters that come and practice with us at the high school, it’s not just about him (Martinez), it’s about making the sport better, the program better and that’s the way he is; always helping everyone. He is a student of his craft.”
Those challenges behind him, Martinez hopes he can vault this most recent obstacle and complete his remaining high school track career.