Just when you think you know where the conversation with Louis Martinez is headed, he pivots and heads in another direction. Pole vaulting, covered. Physics, of course. Self-awareness, yes sir. Inventing new pole vaulting equipment, that's in there, too. Anime, skateboarding, snowboarding, check all of those off as well.
There isn't too much that the Wallkill High School senior isn't comfortable speaking about. He has enough energy and personality to light up an auditorium so the conversation flows seamlessly in several different directions.
One of the topics that Martinez, 18, has spoken about lately is the New York State outdoor record he set on May 22 at the Goshen Trotters' Track Carnival. He cleared 16-9 to best the previous mark of 16-8.75 set by Arlington's Jordan Yamoah in 2011. Yamoah still holds the state indoor mark [17-1].
"It hasn't really hit me yet to be honest with you," Martinez said. "I look at the video and I can't believe I did that. That's really me. It's weird. When I get into the moment and I watch it, every time it sends chills down my spine. I did that. Believe it or not, I didn't feel come into that day feeling too good. My legs were a little tight.
"It was a little a little muggy but I like it hot because the poles bend easier. I had also just eaten a bacon, egg and cheese so I didn't feel like I was about to do anything crazy. It wasn't until my first vault with the big pole that I knew I could do it. I came in at 15 on with the little pole then went up to 16 and flew over it. I said I think I can do it, we threw it up and went for it. On a day when I didn't think I could do too much, I managed to break it. My body went from feeling sluggish and slow to being on top of its game and performing the best it can."
That he set the record has also led Martinez down a path of self-awareness. He said that he's had people who doesn't even know come up to him and congratulate him and talk to him about his record-setting effort but that he has been trying to eschew the spotlight for fear of coming off "as a jerk".
Martinez tends to downplay this and other jumps simply because when he clears a lower bar, like 14 feet, he doesn't view that as being all that high. As a result he feels his responses to queries about his efforts can seem arrogant when they are, in fact, simply matter of fact.
"I just don't talk about it," he said. "If people ask, I'll tell them. But in school or at a meet if someone asks how high am I going today, I just say I feel good or I might jump big today. That's all I'll say. I won't specify unless they want to get into detail. I tend to stay to myself with that.
"That's one of my biggest flaws. When people ask what height and I say only 14 feet, subconsciously, that's not high to me and I come off like a jerk. I think son of a gun, I didn't mean it like that. I need to work on talking so it doesn't come off as mean or rude. After a meet, if someone has more specific or in-depth questions then I'll answer them."
The biggest question with which Martinez is faced as he heads into his final month of high school is where he will attend college. He's narrowed down his choices to Alabama and Auburn but he says he hasn't made any decisions yet. He needs to spend more time discussing it with his family to make sure his choice is the correct one.
Either way, he'll be headed to an SEC school where he will study physics and prepare for what he hopes will be a chance to compete for the 2024 US Olympic team. After that, his future could include being an astrophysicist or a teacher and coach or even an inventor. He's already discussed creating a new type of vaulting pole with his friends.
"We wanted to start that after college when we have professional careers," he said. "We want to open a vaulting sportsplex and coach through that. And, we want to engineer a new carbon fiber pole. I also wanted to design new spikes that will be able to conserve energy through the spikes. There are a lot of things I think of making because I love the sport so much and love to see people fly higher than I have."
Before any of that can happen, he still has to get through his final few prep meets, which includes nationals in Oregon later this month. Based on what he has accomplished thus far, particularly over the last few weeks, it should be month for Martinez.
"He is an amazing kid," Walkill coach Natasha Kennedy said. "He started with me during a summer camp in middle school and wanted to try pole vault. He was pretty natural at it. I spoke to his dad after the camp and told him he could be a great pole vaulter. His dad said he's a lacrosse player and I said no, he's a pole vaulter and it has been so much fun because I have watched him grow over the last seven years.
"When he first started, he was this little kid barreling down the runway and he had no fear. He reminded me of the kid who jumps off the diving board to get into the water as fast as possible. As a teammate he has developed, going from a little kid being mentored to being that mentor. He's such a positive role model. Nothing he does surprises me. What would surprise me is if he wasn't achieving. With him it's not if but when will I. Once he gets it in his head, it's going to happen."
That is a sentiment echoed by long-time, legendary pole vault coach Tim St. Lawrence, with whom Martinez has worked at The Barn in Warwick. The pair have worked together for several years, in conjunction with Kennedy, and St. Lawrence is impressed with Martinez's all-around growth.
"Louis showed some great potential as a 9th- and 10th-grade athlete in both horizontal and vertical jumps at our summer pole vault camps," St. Lawrence said. "He has a tremendous competitive spirit and an inner confidence in himself. His training took off the last two years with complete commitment to both his high school team in all events and his club commitment to the pole vault.
"The best part of Louis is his inner belief and mental toughness. He does not back down in competition. He also has the tools to become a great college vaulter, i.e. his speed and vertical jump. His goal was always to be the best ever out of New York State and he has now set some new goals for the remaining season. It's been a privilege to share him with his high school coach, Natasha Kennedy, but it's not over yet. There is more to come."