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Mario Martinez, the Strongest Mexican-American in History (Part II)

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  • Mario Martinez, the Strongest Mexican-American in History (Part II)

    I received an email from someone a couple of months back telling me they were still waiting for "Part II" of this thread, Part I having been posted more than six months ago. I apologize, as it was written way back then, I simply did not post it.

    Mario's service was held in Salinas, California, the town where he was born, but not where he grew up, went to high school, or lived for much of his adult life. It was held in a fairly large nondenominational Christian church, where his family was obviously an integral part of the congregation. Most of the attendees were family, friends, and members of the congregation, but there were some lifters who had traveled to be there, including Randy Strossen who made the four-hour drive (if he was lucky) that morning.

    There was a strong presence of Faith exhibited by all family members who spoke. And by my count, there were at least 10 who did. Mario's brothers and sisters spoke in descending birth order, sometimes identifying themselves as "Number 2, Number 3" and so forth. As the first-born, there was no doubt that Mario's stellar athletic accomplishments established him as their family hero. The description by all of Mario the person was identical: a kind, caring, wonderful figure who was going to be missed. Even his mother spoke, and acknowledged how unusual it was for a mother to be speaking at such an occasion. She spoke calmly, with class, dignity, and the certainty that her son was with God.

    From his brothers and sisters, we listened to the 1984 moment when it appeared that Mario had the Gold in the bag, only to have it lost by 2.5 Kgs. to a surprising performance by an Australian fisherman's stunning Clean and Jerk. Brothers spoke of the pride they had sitting in the middle of the Southern California auditorium and pronouncing with exuberance to whoever was sitting next to them "That's my brother!". The fact that much of the Los Angeles audience was from different continents and probably had no clue what they said did not matter. Every story told by each brother, each sister always was bursting with pride. Common threads were family, Faith, pride for their brother and the elusive Gold Medal. His brother Paul, three years Mario's junior, talked about the two magazines they read when they were kids, Strength and Health, and Muscular Development. He explained to the audience the difference between the two, and Mario had confidently proclaimed "I am going to be in that magazine". Six years later, he was in weightlifting-oriented Strength and Health. It was something for a church audience to cheer, but the entire packed church was still proud of his having attained an early goal.

    Multi-Olympic Weightlifting Coach and family friend Jim Schmitz spoke of first meeting Mario, his first competition, and the long 125-mile (one way) weekend trips from the agricultural community of Soledad up to the big city of San Francisco to train. He spoke of everything about Mario, his sense of humor, his training, his accomplishments, his move to the San Francisco Bay Area, and his character. Mario was proud to be of Mexican heritage, but that didn't stop either of them from telling Mexican jokes, or making bets on lifts to be made where the loser paid in burritos or tacos. It was a rare good-natured public display of political incorrectness at an unusual venue. One of the best parts of Jim's eulogy was his description of how popular and well-known Mario was around the world, especially revered and respected in Latin America. With the possible exception of a Cuban or two, there has never been a Latino who could put more weight overhead than Mario Martinez. Schmitz stated that under systems of other countries, where athletes are subsidized so they do not need to work full-time, Mario would have probably had more than one Olympic Medal.

    Mario's daughter Annette spoke in what was probably the most emotionally powerful presentation of the day. The father-daughter bond was as strong or stronger than any you could imagine. It was moving.

    Like many modern funerals, there was a video of still photographs set to music, five songs total. There were segments showing Mario growing up, his marriage, his lifting, his being a father, and more. The lifting segment was set to a couple of verses of Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful". And there was no question that the American-born proud Latino was lifting for USA all the way. So much of the "Iron Game" nostalgia and propaganda is a lot of hooey. This was a rare example of the real deal, and a showing of a man proud to be an American and equally proud to be Latino. All of this jumped out from looking at stills of weightlifting photographs set to music. I doubt that is something I will experience again.

    So what did I learn from attending this service? I learned that one person in a family, even as good as the family may be, can pull them together even closer than they otherwise would be, that the one person can unite that family, and that person does not have to be the family patriarch or matriarch. You never know who it will be or why. But love, faith, and strength have a lot to do with it.

    Towards the end of the service, the pastor said he just received an email. He paused, and said it was from God. It said that on January 14, 2018, Mario received his Gold Medal.

    My biggest hope is that someday, the young people of my community will get an idea of what a force Mario Martinez was as an athlete, as a role model, and much much more.

    Last edited by Mike Corlett; 08-02-2018, 04:41 AM.