Jason Kandel

Olympic Runner Inspires Girls to Do Their Best

Sujey Esteve, a senior at La Sierra High School in Riverside, is one of 10 young women picked from 80 submissions to train with Olympic runner Brenda Martinez at her home in Big Bear.

Martinez said a lot of the applicants dealt with hardships and she tells them that she is no different, that they are capable of great things.

"I instantly fell in love with these girls," Martinez says. "It's a matter of putting your mind into it, your heart, and just believing in yourself."

Martinez and Esteve formed a bond.

"I felt, like, a really big connection with Brenda," Esteve said. "I feel like we had a lot of similarities. We have the same heritage being Mexican."

It is a connection Martinez forms with all her camp runners.

"It's part of me to want to give back," she says.

Rosa Maria Martinez, her mother, is proud. She remembers the scrawny kid with big dreams.

"This is the Junior Olympics," she says showing a picture, crying. "This one was in Louisiana. We didn't have money to eat."

She says she worked three jobs, borrowing money, getting help from coaches and others and doing what she could for her children, always making sure Martinez got on the track.

"As long as she had something to eat," she says, pausing. "But you know what? We have always been blessed."

That drive and conviction is part of her daughter's DNA. The now-29-year-old woman didn't make the London Olympics. She failed to qualify for the Rio Games in the 800 meters after falling mid-race at the U.S. trials.

A final push across the finish line at trials got her a spot on team USA for Rio in the 1600.

"I want them to start believing they can do great things," she says of the girls she mentors.

These combined experiences on and off the track are part of the lessons at her camp, now in its 10th year.

"There's always going to be a way and sometimes you are going to have these barriers and maybe they happen for a reason but that doesn't mean it stops there," she says.

So, with help from her sponsor, New Balance, she gives out gear.

"Some of these kids don't have it easy," Martinez says. "Some of these kids don't have the proper running shoes."

She also shares her zest for life.

"I tell them your brain is your biggest investment," she says. "You just have to nourish it."

Esteve is inspired.

"I may not be as fast as other people but I just run for myself and I try my best," she says. "It makes me feel accomplished. It makes me feel happy for myself."

Esteve reads from a letter she wrote to Martinez.

"I admire you so much. You are a huge icon and inspiration to me. Thank you so much, Brenda, for this opportunity."

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