The National Wrestling Hall of Fame announced on Thursday that Michael Martinez will be honored as the organization’s Medal of Courage recipient in 2018.
The Medal of Courage is presented each year to a wrestler or former wrestler who has overcome what appear to be insurmountable challenges and provides inspiration to others.
“Michael epitomizes our Medal of Courage,” said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “He is a young man who has used his background in wrestling to overcome adversity on multiple occasions. Like those of our previous Medal of Courage recipients, Michael’s story is truly inspirational, and we are so happy to share it.”
Martinez will be honored with Distinguished Members Stephen Abas, Lee Allen, Henry Cejudo and Kristie Davis, Meritorious Official Gary Kessel, Order of Merit recipient Nancy Schultz Vitangeli, and Outstanding American Randy Couture at the 42nd Annual Honors Weekend on June 1-2, 2018, in Stillwater, Okla. For more information on Honors Weekend, please telephone (405) 377-5243.
James McCloughan, who was originally announced as the 2018 Medal of Courage recipient, informed the Hall of Fame that because of his grandson’s graduation, he would be unable to attend Honors Weekend. McCloughan will be eligible to receive the Medal of Courage again in the future.
Martinez, who received the Medal of Courage from the Hall of Fame’s Colorado Chapter in 2016, was a 2003 and 2004 Colorado state champion for Pagosa Springs High School. He won his first state title as a junior despite wrestling an abbreviated schedule due to a compound ankle fracture. In December of his senior year, the Martinez family’s home burned to the ground; yet he won another state championship.
After enrolling at the University of Wyoming in 2008, Martinez posted a record of 116-43, won three Western Wrestling Conference championships and qualified for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships four times. Earning a degree in range ecology and watershed management, he also wrestled in the 2012 Olympic Trials, losing to eventual Olympic team member Sam Hazewinkel.
On April 2, 2013, while working on his family’s 236-acre ranch, located outside Pagosa Springs, Colorado, Martinez chose to stay in a motor home on the property, eliminating a 40-minute drive and giving him an opportunity to begin work early the next day. During the night as he lit a match, the propane stove burst into a fireball that covered his body.
Martinez drove to the home of his uncle, who called 911, but due to the home’s location and the roads, the ambulance took 30 minutes to arrive. Because second- and third-degree burns covered over 80 percent of Martinez’ body, however, the EMTs summoned a medical helicopter to fly their patient 45 minutes to the University of New Mexico Hospital burn unit in Albuquerque.
Martinez’ parents, Barbara and Jody, were told that he could be in the hospital for up to three months, as patients typically stay one day for each percent of their body that was burned. Martinez underwent surgery to graft skin onto his hands while beginning to achieve benchmarks on his way to recovery.
Two weeks after the accident, Martinez’s high school coach, Dan Janowsky, visited the hospital. Janowsky recounted that he didn’t see the usual spark that was always present in Martinez’s eyes, so he showed Martinez a video of Janowsky’s son wrestling, and Martinez’s eyes lit up. Following the coach’s visit, Martinez seemed revived and continued his rehabilitation, surprising medical professionals when he left the hospital to return home after only 21 days.
Martinez stayed at his parents’ house, and after needing 24/7 assistance for the first few weeks, he became more self-sufficient. Doctors said that he would need physical therapy, particularly for his hands and fingers. Martinez had no health insurance, so he became his own physical therapist and began playing his guitar. Six weeks later at a follow-up visit, the doctor commended him on his recovery.
Once given clearance, he began light exercise and resumed running. His body continued to heal, and by the summer of 2013, Martinez was surveying land and working again on the family’s ranch. Janowsky invited Martinez to help him with the wrestling team at his alma mater, and Martinez soon was working on the mat and began holding open mat workouts at 6 a.m., attended by most of the wrestlers. In the spring of 2014, Pagosa Springs had its first individual state champion since 2009.
Martinez got married in February of 2017, and he and his wife, Kathleen, have four children – Ethan (14), Chandler (12), Olivia (11) and Hudson (9). He continues to work for Davis Engineering as well as helping on the family ranch and assisting with the high school wrestling team.