Nurse Erin Martin Took On Nordic, And Hard Work Took Her To Beijing
by Alex Abrams
Erin Martin makes her Paralympic debut in Beijing. (Photo: Mark Reis)
Erin Martin was staying at a small rental property in Winthrop, Washington, when her phone rang on Jan. 31. She was expecting the phone call. However, she had been so nervous about what she might hear that she hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night.
Eileen Carey, director of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, was on the other end of the line. She informed Martin that she had been selected for the U.S. Nordic skiing team that would compete at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
Alone in her Airbnb, Martin couldn’t help but get emotional. The 35-year-old nurse was about to make her Paralympic debut, a prospect that seemed like such a longshot when she started skiing a few years earlier.
“Yeah, it was really exciting. I cried a couple of times out of just overwhelming, positive emotion,” said Martin, a native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who now lives in Seattle. “It was really amazing. I sort of felt like I was going to explode because I couldn’t tell anyone. I had to keep it a secret.”
Once the full U.S. roster was announced later that day, Martin called her loved ones to share the good news. She wanted to enjoy the moment and appreciate everything she done to qualify for the Winter Paralympics.
“It was a journey that took a lot of self-reflection and required of me to challenge myself both mentally and physically in a lot of ways,” she said.
Martin arrived in Beijing hoping to learn as much as possible about competing on such a large stage. She finished 15th in the cross-country middle-distance race and 16th in the cross-country sprint. However, Martin’s journey wasn’t so much about reaching the medal podium at her first Winter Paralympics. She had pushed herself just to make it to Beijing as a sit skier.
Martin started Nordic skiing in 2019 after she was encouraged to take up the sport by Heather Galeotalanza, a fellow nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Washington.
Like Galeotalanza, Martin had sustained a spinal cord injury in a rock-climbing accident.
Once the two friends began skiing together, they decided their goal would be to someday qualify for the Winter Paralympics. They traveled around the country to get on snow and train whenever possible.
“I believed that if I did the right work I could qualify,” Martin said. “There’s always external factors that can’t be controlled, so of course, nothing is every guaranteed. But I felt like if I really put my head down and did the work and got the experience and the appropriate training, it was possible.”
Martin said she intensified her training in the year leading up to the Beijing Games. She started working with a strength coach, and she trained alongside Galeotalanza with their ski coach, Betsy Devin-Smith, in northern Washington.
In addition, Martin got help from Martin Benes, the former U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coach. He devised a training plan for her and identified several areas where she needed to improve.
Along the way, Martin increased her strength and fitness. She also felt more comfortable on snow and worked on navigating more technical terrain on her sit ski.
“I think strength was a big part of it,” Martin said. “That helped a lot.”
When it’s not winter, Martin lives in Seattle, where she works as a nurse care manager for Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Once there’s snow on the ground, though, she spends much of her time skiing with Galeotalanza in Washington’s Methow Valley.
As excited as she was to get selected for the Beijing Paralympics, Martin admitted it was bittersweet when she learned Galeotalanza wouldn’t be on the U.S. Para Nordic skiing team with her. Galeotalanza wasn’t among the 15 Americans named to the team.
“To go through the process of training with my good friend, Heather, and for one of us to qualify and the other one not was sort of a bittersweet moment for me,” Martin said. “It was something that we were really hoping to do together, and of course there’s nothing that guarantees that of course.
“But it was disappointing. It was a little bittersweet for me because she was not going to be with me on that journey.”
Still, Martin credited Galeotalanza with helping her make it to Beijing.
“There’s no way I could’ve done this without her,” Martin said. “She has been such a big part of my training and us pushing each other and making plans and just carrying each other along. It would not have been possible without her.”
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 TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.