Utica — A bullet did not stop Antonio Martin, a former state championship football player at Detroit's Martin Luther King High School.
Martin, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot at a bar where he was working security seven years ago, finished fourth last month in the bench press at the 2019 World Para Powerlifting Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Antonio Martin is ranked 6th in the world as a power lifter is set to qualify for the US Paralympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. The Detroit News
“It was the world championship,” Martin said. “I placed fourth out of the 79 countries. I think I had about 30 people in my weight class that I was competing against.”
Martin, 30, is off to Tokyo on Monday for a test competition in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Intent on standing on the podium with a Paralympic medal, Martin ranks sixth in the world.
“Amazing,” said Martin, when asked about his feeling of accomplishment and representing the United States in the top international competitions in his sport.
“It’s motivating,” said Martin, who also played basketball and competed in track-and-field events at King.
“It’s showing me all of my hard work, my wife, my family, all of their hard work and dedication is paying off.
“Faith, family, the support of a lot of people,” he said, about his trip back from the shooting, which killed a friend. “Just the support of the disabled community as well.”
He added, “I reach out to a lot of people, and a lot of people reach out to me, just to let me know how I inspired them gives me that motivation to continue to inspire, to help.
“Just to show people that they may have different things going on, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t go and compete at a high level,” he said.
Martin said he harbors no bitterness about the shooting.
"No, I believe everything happens for a reason," he said. "I believe one day I will get up and walk."
At the time of the incident, Martin played semi-professional football, working in security in the off-season.
Afterward, he would demonstrate what friends and family say they already knew: The big man’s strength was never confined to his muscles.
“Not really a process of grieving or anything,” he said.
“I know my wife and kids were with me in everything, and that was good,” Martin said. “I was in Receiving Hospital for three months, and they were there every single day. They didn’t miss a day when I was down there, eating meals together and everything.
“So, pretty much, I didn’t grieve about anything.
“Family just really motivated me. I wanted my kids to see me not letting something stop me.”
His wife, Melanie, is amazed.
She took the nursing she did at the time of the shooting and advanced it in care and qualifications so she could attend to her husband throughout his convalescence and into his now-vigorous training.
“One thing I love about the whole thing is: It’s inspirational!” Melanie said. “Because he never got down.
“I used to be sad and stuff, because of his situation. Like I’m him, or something,” she said.
“But now I don’t get sad because I know there’s bigger and better things coming. He always kept a positive attitude.”
She said the response of their three children to their father has been moving, too.
“I don’t know, they were just never sad when they’d see him,” Melanie said. “They’d seen him walking and playing football. But when they saw him in a wheelchair, they still treated him in the same way.
“It’s like looking through a kid’s eyes. They have no fear, first of all, but they’re still looking at him like he’s the same person.”
Returning to family life is one thing. Competing internationally is another.
It is all a lot of hard work.
“Training,” Antonio Martin said of his continuous lifting, repetitions and the development of the intense concentration it takes to compete as a world class lifter.
“I’m trying to do two or three days a week for at least three hours, while I train. It is working all the different muscle groups, this and that. I bench twice a week.
“Pretty much it’s just gearing up for it,” he said, of what is essentially a warmup competition in Toyko ahead of the Summer Olympic Games and the Summer Paralympic Games there next year.
“Making sure I get a lot of plain and healthy food in. Diet is key."
“I train here twice a week,” he said, as he sat in his garage, “and I go to the gym on the weekends for my heavy days, to have people come help me and spot me and stuff like that.”
Martin’s top bench press is 560 pounds.
The competitor to beat at next week's test event is an Iranian, Siamand Rahman, a legend in Paralympic bench pressing, Martin said.
“He has been dominating the competition for the past eight to 12 years, probably. He’s been winning every time.
“He did 683 pounds in 2016 in Rio,” Martin said. “So he’s the legend of the sport, right now.“
Like most Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Martin does a lot of fundraising to support his training, expenses and especially the expensive travel to places where he has competed, like Colombia, Kazakhstan and Japan.
He has a GoFundMe page, and the Martins sell clothing emblazoned with one of his slogans, “Raw Natural Strength!”
“To be honest with you, I’m looking forward to coming home with a medal from the Tokyo test event,” Martin said, expressing confidence that the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games could be his hour.