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Saturday, Aug 23 2014 09:16 PM

Former CSUB wrestler making his mark as pro bodybuilder

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Erik Martinez, former CSUB wrestler has become a professiona bodybuilder at age 24.

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  2. 2 of 3

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Former CSUB wrestler Erik Martinez has become a professional bodybuilder and gets in a short workout at Body xChange on Oswell where he works and trains others.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Erik Martinez has recently become a professional bodybuilder and he is a former CSUB wrestler.

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BY CAMERON MILLER Californian staff writer cmiller@bakersfield.com

If there's a number that best describes Bakersfield professional bodybuilder Erik Martinez's career thus far, it's far lower than people might think.

It's not 315, though that is the amount in pounds that Martinez routinely bench presses in practice.

595 -- Martinez's typical squat weight -- is pretty substantial, but that's not it either.

Not even 300, the number of rope crunches Martinez completes in a normal core and abdominal training session, is the most impactful stat on the 24 year-old's budding bodybuilding resume.

Okay, it has to be his 5-foot-3 height, right? A story like this is begging for the little guy, "the kid," to come out on top. Nope, still not the most defining number -- but we're getting closer.

Give up yet?

The number: three. That's not how many competitions Martinez has won, nor does it represent the years Martinez has been honing his physique specifically for bodybuilding.

No, three is the number of bodybuilding shows it took for Erik Martinez to become a professional. Just three.

Some professional athletes spend years, even decades perfecting their craft and training for one shot at the pros. They play thousands of games, grind out hundreds of matches or run countless laps.

For Erik Martinez, it took nine months. Not nine years, nine months.

But, as you'll see, Martinez and the journey he took to earning his IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness) Pro Card is anything but typical.

Don't be fooled: Martinez's quick progression from unknown amateur to IFBB professional wasn't hasty or unplanned. In fact, it is something he'd been hoping -- and intending -- to achieve for nearly a decade and a half.

Born in San Jose, Martinez was introduced to weightlifting and bodybuilding at a young age by his father, Richard, who was as strapping a man as his son ever saw.

"I like to say it was my dad," Martinez said. "I've always looked up to him, and he's always been a big, strong individual, mentally and physically. He's always had a huge physique: huge arms, big chest.

"I remember when I was 10 or 11, he introduced me to the movie 'Pumping Iron' with Arnold (Schwarznegger). And man, from then on, I just admired that type of physique; whether I wanted to body build or not, that was the type of physique I wanted to attain."

Martinez parlayed that genetic strength and mental desire into a standout wrestling career at nearby Bellarmine Prep, earning team MVP honors his senior year and leading the Bells to a league championship and qualifying for the state tournament.

Martinez was funneled to CSUB by Bellarmine coach Tim Kerr, the son of the late T.J. Kerr, then the Roadrunners coach. He had a solid but low-profile collegiate career, redshirting his freshman year and eventually taking sixth at the Pac-12 Championships in the 149-pound category in 2012.

Current CSUB coach Mike Mendoza, who was an assistant when the Runners recruited Martinez, isn't surprised at all by Martinez's successful foray into bodybuilding.

"I don't know if talked about it to me or (Kerr), but (bodybuilding) was his passion," Mendoza said. "In our training program, we run, we lift and we wrestle. And when it came to lifting, that was his thing. He loved to do it.

"Every offseason, we would balloon up ... but he always got his weight down throughout the season. He loved the spring time and summer, because that's when he could really lift and put it on and get big."

Martinez's wrestling career -- unlike the beginning of his bodybuilding ventures -- was marked with frustration, obstacles and setbacks. By the time his redshirt junior season rolled around, Martinez had suffered multiple neck injuries and had to have surgery to correct a knee problem.

Those issues continued into the 2011-12 campaign, when Martinez injured his left shoulder during a match, tearing the labrum and damaging the rotator cuff and AC joint. Martinez forged on without complaint, competing the rest of his junior and senior years with a custom sleeve to help prevent further injury.

Martinez said the sleeve was of little help, and he finally had "much needed" surgery in January 2013 to repair the damage. It was admittedly a tough point in his life: A soon-to-be-graduating college student has enough on his mind, but add in a shoulder operation, and things can get downright dreadful. But Martinez never gave in, as his social media hashtags from the time of the surgery indicated: "#minorsetback #majorcomeback."

"For a while, I was really bummed out and in a lot of pain," Martinez said. "I lost a lot of weight. ... Three weeks after the surgery, I was still in my sling and doing lunges down and back in this gym (Body Xchange Northeast) and doing leg extensions and I realized 'This would be an opportunity to train my legs, my calves and my hamstrings and work on some cardio.'

"But that's the type of person I am: I can't just sit there and expect something to happen. I have to do it."

It was around this time that Martinez had an opportunity to become a personal trainer at Body Xchange. There were a couple of other employees in the company that were serious bodybuilders and, despite his mental exhaustion and muscular atrophy, Martinez saw the chance to grasp his dream of bodybuilding at a high level.

It seems like the most natural of progressions: From wrestling, where strength is a must, to bodybuilding, where strength is everything.

In the interim, however, stood a daunting rehabilitation.

"It's been amazing," said Ever Marquez, the Body Xchange Northeast general manager. "He was tiny, he was little -- he was injured. I've seen buddies who have the same surgery, and they're never the same. But he had surgery and said 'I want to be a pro body builder.' And sure enough, he set his goal, worked towards his goal and he achieved it."

The journey toward the 2014 NPC (National Physique Committee) USA Championships, the July show in which Martinez earned his Pro Card, began in early 2013, when Martinez began consulting and training with local coach Eric Frapwell.

Martinez slowly built up training as his shoulder continued to heal, and by the late summer and fall he was full-bore once again. It was then that he decided to enter his first bodybuilding show, the Ironman Games in Culver City on Nov. 9.

Just months removed from a serious reconstructive operation, Martinez won multiple sections of the show, qualifying for the USA competition. What followed was an extended break from competition that allowed Martinez to hunker down and train, train, train. His next show didn't come until the middle of July at the San Jose Classic, which he treated as a warm-up for USAs.

Despite having just two live competitions under his belt, Martinez headed to Las Vegas in late July with a level of confidence and an attitude like that of a seasoned veteran.

"I was very confident going in, because I knew I had the potential to do well at the show. ... I knew that if I brought my best, I could hang with the best individuals," Martinez said. "Now, bodybuilding, being a subjective sport, it can go either way. It depends on what the judges are looking for and what the judges see. I have no control over that; all that I have control over is working hard and bringing my best package, my best physique."

Martinez did just that, winning the welterweight division (165 1/4 pounds and less) and earning his IFBB Pro Card, which allows the carrier to represent the IFBB -- "the NFL of bodybuilding" leagues -- at competitions.

As Bakersfield's only current professional bodybuilder, Martinez can now capitalize on endorsement and sponsorship opportunities and compete for much larger purses.

Martinez said it's still a little difficult for his accomplishment to fully sink in.

"Honestly, a number of feelings were going through my mind," Martinez said. "The biggest thing is the excitement. It was a long-term goal of mine, it was something I wanted to do ... It was reassuring to myself, because a lot of people believed in me, and I believed in myself. It was reassurance that 'Hey, maybe I am this good, and this is something I can continue to do and show people that anything is possible.'"

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