Before becoming a track star at UCSB, senior 800-meter runner Ryan Martin always envisioned athletics propelling him into the spotlight. The only difference is he expected his path to go through the PGA tour instead of running track.
“I had dreams of being a professional golfer, going on the PGA tour and being the next Tiger Woods,” Martin said. “I had to choose between golf and track, so it was actually kind of a tough decision. I just had this gut feeling that track was the sport I should pick.”
Martin played golf his first two years at Santa Margarita Catholic High School and ran cross country while growing up in Lake Forest, CA. Aside from nearly foregoing track, Martin almost never arrived at UC Santa Barbara either, instead looking at other Big West schools and Columbia University before visiting a high school friend one weekend and falling in love with the campus and I.V.
Once he arrived at UCSB, Martin seemed destined for success after winning a Big West Athlete of the Week award in his freshman season. However, a leg injury forced him to sit out the rest of the season.
“It was tough; I didn’t run for several months,” Martin said. “I was on the bike for a couple of months before I could get out there and start jogging.”
Returning as a redshirt freshman, a new rivalry unlike anything seen in Big West track history formed between Martin and current UC Irvine senior Charles Jock.
During Martin’s four years at UCSB, he and Jock have each split the Big West title in the 800-meter run with Martin taking the title in 2009 and 2011 and Jock in 2010 and 2012. Last season, he and Jock held the top two times in the nation at 1:45.34 and 1:45.40, respectively.
“I think we really have pushed each other a lot because we know we’re going to meet up and race against each other,” Martin said. “Not many conferences have an intense rivalry like this.”
An All-American for the previous two seasons, Martin’s focus was on team goals this season, as the men’s track and field team secured its first ever Big West Championship.
“For me [a championship] has been a five-year goal and to finally get it in my last year here is just incredible,” Martin said. “Last year we made a pact to go out and win a championship the next year, so it was something special definitely.”
Martin will now look forward to NCAA nationals before he turns his attention to Olympic trials in June. The top three qualifiers in the country advance to the Olympics for the 800-meter event.
“Me and [Head Coach Pete Dolan] sat down in the beginning of the year and set out three goals: to win conference as a team, to place well in nationals and to make the Olympic team,” Martin said. “We’ve got one down and two more to go. A big goal of mine is to make the Olympic team; I’ve been wanting to do that for a lot of years now.”
Set to graduate in the spring, Martin, an art history and business economics double major, has certainly left his legacy on the UCSB track program.
“He’s kind of like our superstar. It’s fun to brag about him,” junior Barbara Nwaba said. “He’s the center of our team, and everyone steps up and wants to do well for each other, and he definitely does that. He definitely takes that with a lot of pride and he competes hard for us.”