Faith and family sustain BMX racer Arielle Martin in wake of Olympics heartbreak
Martin was grinning as she pedaled out of the first turn, proud of herself for her progress. She was heading into the track's third turn when her fortune turned.
"I remember thinking, one pedal, two pedal, three pedal and then I felt it," she said of the bike chain either breaking or falling off. "I don't know if you've ever lost a chain before, but it's such a surreal feeling to be throwing down that much power, pedaling at 180 RPMs and having no resistance."
She flew, like Superman, the length of the jump and landed on her stomach. As medical personnel rushed to her, she tried to catch her breath. She didn't know she had a punctured lung and a grade-four liver laceration. Grade five, she said, "you're pretty much not coming back from."
"It was pretty horrific at the time," she said. "As soon as I stood up, I noticed a very searing pain. … I'm not one to lie on the track and wait for the stretcher."
She got up and talked with medical personnel, who helped her to a cart. They drove her to onsite medical professionals who called 911.
"I kind of had this horrible feeling, like something's not right," she said. "I knew I was pretty hurt. … It was a nightmare."
The vicious pain combined with shock made it impossible for Martin to comprehend what doctors were telling her in the moments before they operated on her.
She understood the words, but she couldn't bring herself to accept what they meant.
"I don't remember a lot about those first few days except for fighting to go to London," said Martin, who struggles with emotion when she discusses those dark hours. "I had worked so hard for that spot, I had earned it outright, and I wanted to experience being an Olympian in the village for a few days before they stripped me of it and gave it to (replacement rider) Brooke (Crain). I remember multiple surgeons trying to explain to me the severity of injuries, but it wasn't connecting. I didn't realize my condition was "life threatening"; I thought I'd be out in a day or two."
Hospital and blessing
Once she was en route to the hospital, her family was notified. Her stepfather, Patrick May, called the LDS Church's San Diego Mission president to see if missionaries in the area could go to the hospital to give Martin a blessing before surgery.
"What I remember is the doctors telling me some important men from the church were there to give me a blessing and that I would be left alone with them for a few minutes," Martin said. "I was heavily sedated at that point, just about to go into my first surgery, so I kind of recognized Elder (M. Russell) Ballard (of the Quorum of Twelve) but couldn't put it together until he introduced himself. His son-in-law, San Diego Mission President Paul Clayton, was with him. Elder Ballard anointed and President Clayton administered the actual blessing. I didn't remember anything that was said at the time, but I knew I was going to be OK and I was left with a feeling of peace."
As her family members, made their way to the San Diego hospital, she fought for her life — and fought to go to London.
"I would go in and out of lucid dreams, telling funny stories of when I was a kid, then switch straight back to "when am I going to London?" she said. "I'm told when I talked BMX I was narrow-focused and had a single-track mission to London. I wasn't going to give up on that, and at one point my husband caught me trying to book a flight to London on my phone. I lost phone privileges after that."
Her coach, James Herrera, and representatives from USA Cycling were at the hospital almost immediately and offered support and comfort to Martin. They tried to explain the reality of the situation to her, but it wasn't until the team left and the media reported that she'd been replaced by Crain that she realized she wasn't going to London — not even as a spectator.
As she struggled with her new reality, which included multiple surgeries and a complication of pancreatitis, she found public support overwhelming.
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