Faith and family sustain BMX racer Arielle Martin in wake of Olympics heartbreak

Published: Saturday, Aug. 25 2012 11:08 p.m. MDT

Arielle Martin takes a spin Monday on the antique Schwinn cruiser, left, that her father restored for her last Christmas. It was her first ride following her accident. At right, Martin leaves the hospital in San Diego.

Provided by Arielle Martin-Verhaaren

There has to be a reason.

When BMX cyclist Arielle Martin is overcome by the agony of her lifelong dream slipping away for a second time, she finds comfort in the knowledge that there must be a reason.

"Obviously the heartbreak is still raw," said Martin, who suffered life-threatening injuries in a training accident July 30 — just two days before she was to travel to London to compete in the 2012 Olympics. "I'd probably be lost without my faith; it's the only thing keeping me going, the knowledge that the Lord must have an alternate plan for me. So right now I'm just trying my best to get healthy and stay optimistic. It's not always easy; I still have tears and disappointment … feelings of failure and injustice that it's slipped through my fingers now twice, but I'm reminded every day that BMX isn't all that I am. I'm still young with a bright future ahead of me, and many goals to come both in and outside of the sport of cycling that I plan to accomplish."

One of the country's top female riders, the Cedar Hills native has known more disappointment in four years than some athletes ever experience. She missed qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing by a single point when she crashed during the quarterfinals of the BMX World Championships.

She called missing out on her goal by such a minute margin "horrible." But then she acknowledge the disappointment taught her about perseverance, humility and gratitude.

"I am a better rider, a better person and a better athlete for it today, without a doubt," she told the Deseret News on July 5, when she returned to Utah as an official member of the U.S. Olympic team for 2012. "And while it was heartbreaking, it makes it all a little sweeter now."

Her desire to be an Olympian began when she watched another woman deal with an injury that came at an inopportune moment.

"I vividly remember Keri Strug, her Olympic gymnastics performance in Atlanta with (an injured) ankle, pushing through it for her team," said Martin. "I was only 10, but it stuck with me. So for me it's been about representing the country I love and using it as a platform to reach out and inspire others."

Like any competitive athlete, she was going to London to try to win gold, but she also was going to London with hopes of carrying the mantle long after to those who may need inspiration or encouragement. She realized the Olympics would give her a platform to help others through doubts and tough times.

"Having that status goes a long way when sharing with a discouraged kid, a woman who feels like she can't do what a man does, a youth who is afraid of chasing a dream," she said.

And in light of how she bounced back from her 2008 disappointment, she became one of 2012's shining examples of determination and perseverance in the months leading up to the London Games.

Day of the accident

But the morning of her 27th birthday became the day her life veered from the path she'd planned to a path both unknown and excruciatingly painful.

"It was an exciting day," she said of what was to be her final day of training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., before flying to London to compete in the BMX event. "I woke up; it was my birthday, and I was thinking, 'This is the best birthday ever; I'm going to be an Olympian!' "

She said a year of battling through injuries seemed to have paid off as she enjoyed some of her best riding that day.

"I remember thinking that I couldn't have been more prepared," she said. "I was in awe of how good I felt on the bike. … I was enthusiastic, very excited about how the day was going."

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