St. John's native Martin keeps climbing

Kenn Oliver
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Has successfully moved from competitive rowing to competitive cycling

On Dan Martin's most recent return to his native St. John's, the semi-professional cyclist brought along with him his racing bike. During this late spring trip nearly two years ago, Martin had decided tackle what he remembered to be a formidable opponent: Signal Hill.

"In my mind, I had this huge hill envisioned. So I went down figuring I could do some training on the hill. I thought it would take me 20 minutes," says Martin, who was then preparing for a run at a Canadian Masters title at the nationals later that summer.

On Dan Martin's most recent return to his native St. John's, the semi-professional cyclist brought along with him his racing bike. During this late spring trip nearly two years ago, Martin had decided tackle what he remembered to be a formidable opponent: Signal Hill.

"In my mind, I had this huge hill envisioned. So I went down figuring I could do some training on the hill. I thought it would take me 20 minutes," says Martin, who was then preparing for a run at a Canadian Masters title at the nationals later that summer.

"It took me less than four minutes to get from the very bottom of the Battery to the top of Signal Hill."

The real challenge of cycling around town didn't come in the city's topography, but rather from the most consistent meteorological hurdle.

"Man, it was windy," Martin, 41, acknowledges. "Every time I went out on the bike, I was like, 'Holy crap'."

But the Avalon Peninsula's pervasive gale isn't enough to dissuade the likes of Martin, who calls the slightly more temperate Foster City in northern California his home. Stamina-testing challenges have been his life for some time, starting with a career as a sliding-seat rower that began at Quidi Vidi in the early 1980s.

Though past the competition age, Martin trained with the province's Canada Games crews and won gold at senior nationals in 1992 and 1993. But by then, Martin was on his way to Ottawa, with an Electrical Engineering degree from Memorial in his back pocket.

But Martin didn't scuttle his rowing dreams for the sake of career. He tackled both.

"As soon as I went up in 1993 and into 1994, I went to the camps and I competed in the trials and started getting close. Then, 1995 was my breakout year in terms of starting to be considered for the (Canadian national) team," recounts Martin, who climbed to seventh following the 1996 trials and came back strong in 1997 winning races in St. Catherine's, Montreal and a second-place finish in the Head of the Charles, a race held annually on the Charles River separating Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Then, when a job offer came from California-based Cisco, Martin migrated south.

"It was the job and the ability to train year-round. At that point, everything was about rowing for me," he says, having had enough of indoor training in the often Nordic-like Ottawa valley.

For the next three years, Martin worked and trained, but unlike so many of his rowing brethren at the time, his career wouldn't to move to Victoria, B.C. or London, Ont,, and nor would it allow him to attend national training camps.

"I always knew the only thing I could do was go and win trials."

Following wins in single and doubles event at the Nike Master Worlds in 1998, Martin showed up at the Canadian Olympic trials in 2000 ready to row his way to Sydney, Australia.

Finishing second overall, Martin was in Canada's two-man lightweight boat ready to compete in Olympic qualifying races in Lucerne, Switzerland.

But, with what he describes as "coaching turmoil" facing Canada's team at the time, his dream of one day representing Canada on an Olympic stage was dashed.

"I was faced with the decision to quit work and commit from January to August, while I was caught in a situation between some of the athletes and the coach that was very distracting.

"At that level, I believe you need everything pointing in the right direction."

They weren't and Martin made the difficult decision to leave camp and return to California.

When the Athens games rolled around in 2004, Martin made a bid to be part of Canada's men's quad. In the end though, he was the odd man out.

"There were nine of us selected, then it came down to six, then five and I was the last guy to be let go."

Between the disappointment of 2000 and the subsequent letdown in 2004, Martin began cycling and quickly climbed the sports ladder.

"You start in category 5 and work your way up. Normally it takes a couple of years to move to category 2, but because of my fitness from rowing, I moved up pretty quick."

Success on the road, however, doesn't come as quickly. Still, over the last five years, Martin has won and placed in his fair share or criteriums and road races throughout California and Oregon.

Last July, he won the Masters 40-49 age division at the Canadian cycling championships in Quebec City.

In reality, it's a title Martin should have won two years earlier.

Racing in the 30-39 division at the 2007 nationals and leading the way, Martin was disqualified with about five miles to go because race officials looked at his U.S. drivers license and jumped to the conclusion he was an American ringer aiming at stealing away the Canadian title.

"It was a complete farce," Martin says now.

"I went back last year for the sole purpose of winning because I felt like I got robbed. I trained specifically for that race because I wanted to win and have the pride of wearing the (Canadian) jersey on my back this year."

Martin completed the nearly 50-mile course without teammates. The benefit of having teammates in a bike race is being able to conserve energy by drafting. When an opportunity to break presents itself, those in the draft positions have the stores of energy to move away from the pack.

"If you're racing solo, you can't hide in the pack too long. The race will go up the road without you and then you're in trouble.

"There's a style to racing by yourself and it's definitely harder to say you're going to win, but you're not completely defenseless. You just have to throw it out there every now and then."

For a year following the nationals, winners wear the Canadian jersey and after missing out on a chance to represent Canada internationally, Martin has been proudly cycling through this season with the nation's flag on his back. Once this year's champ is crowned, Martin will wear the Maple Leaf on the sleeves of his racing jerseys.

Martin has kept up the pace heading into 2010 and his impending title defense at nationals in Edmonton this July. He recently won a masters stage race in Oregon, beating a 5-plus world champion along the way.

Over the next three months, Martin will compete in a series of races before nationals, including the famous Nevada City Bicycle Classic and the Devon Grand Prix in Alberta. And with dual citizenship now, he's aiming for a U.S. national title as well.

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Masters, Cisco, Nordic Nike Master Worlds Nevada City Bicycle Classic Devon Grand Prix

Geographic location: Northern California, California, St. John's Signal Hill Canada Ottawa Foster City Montreal Charles River Boston Cambridge, Massachusetts Victoria B.C. London, Ont Oregon Sydney Australia U.S. Lucerne Switzerland Athens Quebec City Maple Leaf Edmonton Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Well done, nice to know there are Newfoundlander doing great things within sport throughout North America.

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Well done, nice to know there are Newfoundlander doing great things within sport throughout North America.