"James has such an intense personality," says his friend and fellow national-team sculler Andrea Thies, "that when he decides to help the environment, he doesn't just start recycling. He starts at a level much higher than the average person and goes at it from there. He did that with rowing, too. Naturally, a lot of people think he's a crazy nut."
"When I met him two years ago," says Igor Grinko, the men's national sculling coach, "he wasn't very fast at all, but he said, 'I want to win a gold medal in the open-weight single scull.' I laughed, but I liked his goal. People who have gold medal potential are never normal. They must suffer more. James has that mental difference. He's like a kamikaze."
Indeed, nature has yet to devise weather that will keep Mart�nez off the water. While living in D.C., he had to keep a list of training partners by the phone because nobody would train with him every day.
"Sometimes he does things that are a little crazy," says Cyrus Beasley, a fellow team member. "Like rowing in fog when you can only see five meters ahead." Or rowing 2� miles down the Potomac in a snowstorm in a business suit to deliver unclassified papers to the Pentagon, as Mart�nez did in March 1993 when the storm tied up public transportation.
"There is no such thing as bad weather," Mart�nez insists. "Weathermen encourage us to think of wind and cold as bad, but weather is what it is. When you're out rowing in the blinding snow and the heat is coming off your body, everything is so vivid and stimulating. Besides, you need to be prepared to row in all kinds of conditions."
Self-propulsion, Mart�nez believes, is its own reward, something he feels others would discover if only they gave it a chance. To that end, he would like to shut down all the escalators in D.C. for one day. "By taking the stairs, people will find either that 'Hey, it's not so hard,' or 'Wow, I am out of shape,' " he says. "Also, it would be a great day for maintenance."
"James has always been a dreamer and a great spontaneous thinker," says his mother, Exilda, with a sigh. "But he isn't always terribly practical."
Indeed, as the Atlanta Olympics approach, Mart�nez has already decided how he will travel the 150 miles from Augusta if he makes the team. The trip, a 50-minute plane ride for some and a three-hour drive for others, will be at least a two-day bike ride for Mart�nez. But getting on the team in the first place may pose a bigger challenge. The 1996 Games will feature lightweight rowing events for the first time, and competition for the two seats in the lightweight men's scull—the double—will be fierce. "The double is a whole different song from the single, and I have a lot of work to do," says Mart�nez, who has been training with Rob Ezold as his partner.
He hasn't completely given up on his dream of winning the gold in the open-weight single sculls, however. "A lightweight who could do that would be the most efficient athlete in the world," Martinez says. "And every time a heavyweight passes me in a car while I'm on my bike, I know I'm gaining on him."