When Letticia Martinez was five years old, she told her family that she was going to be an Olympic swimmer. A natural athlete and highly energetic, Letticia’s parents enrolled her in traditional and adaptive sports to keep her active, help her build confidence and learn to adapt to new endeavors. But it wasn’t until the summer after middle school when Letticia’s track coach convinced her to participate in a triathlon that she finally learned how to swim. Letticia describes her early swimming as “joyful, but I was so slow that they didn’t even bother to warn me with a pool noodle when I was running into a wall, because I wasn’t swimming fast enough to hurt myself.”
Two years later, at a high school swim meet Letticia and her parents learned about the Paralympic Games, a series of international multi-sport events involving athletes with a range of disabilities and traditionally take place immediately following the Olympic Games. With intense training and immense support from her family and coaches, Letticia qualified for the London Paralympic Games within the year and competed for Team USA at the age of 17.
In an interview with Las Cruces Sun News, Letticia reflected on overcoming challenges as an elite athlete with a disability. “You can get anything done as long as you have the proper tools and people to help you along the way,” she said. “Never say something is too hard to get done. What it really means is, ‘I can’t do this alone,’ but that’s okay. I will find people to help me.”
Shortly after returning from London, Letticia got the life-changing news that GDB was matching her with her first guide dog, Phillipa. Due to her rigorous training and school schedule, the GDB staff developed a plan to bring her yellow Lab guide dog, lovingly nicknamed Philly, to her and provide customized training on-site.
“Letticia is thoughtful, methodical, and calmly tenacious in the manner she seemed to approach her academic, athletic, and personal goals,” says Amy Gunn, Letticia’s trainer with GDB. “In addition to Letticia’s warm, supportive nature and adept dog handling skills, much credit can also be given to the puppy raisers that helped Philly become such an adaptable and unflappable dog. On any given day, Philly easily transitioned from navigating a complex college campus to settling in classrooms, a weightlifting gym, and poolside at swim practice and competitions.”
Just a few months later, Letticia was invited to train at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Complex in Colorado Springs, CO. “I loved the grind,” says Letticia. “I loved meeting and training with world class athletes- both Olympians and Paralympians- while living at the training center. But the experience was even better with Philly. She would take her place poolside and loved her routine of greeting the other swimmers, coaches and athletes while I was working out. Philly is social and outgoing, and I met so many people because she helped break the ice.”
With Philly by her side, Letticia began her training for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where she came in 6th in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke and 8th in the 100-meter freestyle competitions.
Despite battling injuries, and training delays after returning from Rio, Letticia’s support system continued to grow. Along with Philly, Letticia’s boyfriend Jay relocated to Colorado to support her training, and Team USA’s coaching staff, nutritional support teams, and sports psychologists helped Letticia overcome physical and mental blocks to improving her performance and getting her to the top of her game.
“Hard work is important, but it takes discipline and determination to overcome the inevitable setbacks. It also takes a lot of support from your people and your networks.” Most recently, Letticia’s cheering section has grown once again when she welcomed her daughter in late 2019.
With the postponement of the 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games, Letticia says that she hasn’t ruled out another chance to compete and will love to have her family and supporters, including Philly, cheering her on poolside if she does.