Brenda Martinez

You call Carlos Handler in the middle of the afternoon. He's happy to talk -- but he and his wife, track star Brenda Martinez, are headed out the door to pick up some food for their four dogs. Can you call back in an hour?

It's not the sort of sound byte you'd expect about an Olympian. Amid the training required to compete with the best in the world, who has the time for daily household chores?

But away from the spotlights shined on major international sports, this is the way of life for many Olympic athletes chasing their dreams while trying to keep their lives intact. And anyways, by now, Carlos and Brenda are used to doing things on their own.

This is how it's always been for the husband-and-wife duo: Brenda doing the running, Carlos doing the training and cooking, the two of them hefting their own luggage through life. In America, there are easier paths to becoming an Olympic athlete. But when those doors were slammed in Brenda's face, the two of them turned to one another and vowed to do it on their own.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to them.

***

When she finished college, a professional running career was Brenda's logical next step. She had wrapped up a standout career at University of California-Riverside, taking second place in the 1,500 meters at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships.

Brenda Martinez

But trouble arose when she sought out a professional running group to nurture her post-collegiate career. A group based in California rejected her, forcing her to look elsewhere. She found a group based in Boulder, Colorado, that was interested in having Brenda join.

"So we moved out to Colorado," says Carlos, noting that with the little money they had, they scraped together funds to sign a six-month lease on an apartment. "And once we got there and met the coach, the coach rejected Brenda."

Suddenly, the pair was stuck in Colorado with no training support, and even fewer options.

"I didn't consider quitting, but we were lost. We were definitely lost," Brenda says. "Like, What are we going to do, I want to run but I don't have a coach, I don't have a training environment."

In desperation, Carlos called a man he knew through a former running coach. That man was Dr. Joe Vigil, a longtime collegiate coach who in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s helped lead a resurgence in the caliber of U.S. distance runners, including three Olympic medal winners at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Carlos explained Brenda's situation to Vigil. According to Carlos, Vigil replied: "Before I'm a coach, I'm a man, and when two people ask me for help, I'm going to help them."


And so, just like that, Brenda had the support system she needed to chase a professional career. Vigil, now 86 years old and living in Arizona, writes daily workouts for the pair. Carlos, who also ran collegiately for Concordia University in Irvine, California, coaches Brenda through each training session. Between Vigil and support from her sponsor, New Balance, Brenda and Carlos had cobbled together a system of support for her running aspirations.

***

It wasn't easy at first. Going to work with your spouse is one thing. Having your husband as a coach is something entirely different. For Carlos and Brenda, managing their dual relationship took some work.

"It was really hard, especially for me," Brenda says. "I feel like he handled it better than me. If I had a bad workout, he would bitch at me, and I would take it personally and bring it home."

Carlos remembers it a little differently. "When we first started in 2010, it was hard to separate being husband and wife, and coach and athlete. The running wasn't going so well, and the training was so hard. It was very intense. Things weren't going the way we wanted them to go.

"Back then, say the workout wasn't going as we figured, then maybe I wouldn't stop and let it go. I'd keep pressuring her, and maybe Brenda wouldn't want to talk about it, but I'd want to know what went wrong."

Fortunately for the both of them, those early challenges were overcome. They learned how to communicate better, and to separate their professional and private lives. It also helped that those early training struggles started to improve -- the results started to come, and the pressure eased up.

"We knew we were going to have to change our ways," Carlos says. "Now, [those disagreements] don't really happen anymore."

Nowadays, the pair stick to a tight itinerary built around Brenda's training. On a workout day, Carlos wakes at five in the morning, feeds their four dogs and takes them outside. At 5:45, after loading equipment into their van, they drive to their training location 90 minutes away from home.


#tuesdaythoughts Focus on the good! Life is short, live it to the fullest! #teamNB #alwaysinbeta

A photo posted by BRENDA MARTINEZ (@bmartrun) on

Brenda and the other athletes warm up -- Carlos coaches her and other track and field athletes through his Big Bear Track Club, which he operates in conjunction with Vigil -- and practice begins. By 11 or 12, they're done running and focus on core and plyometric workouts. After that, it's a 40-minute drive to the physical therapists, where athletes will spend two hours going through different exercises.

If all goes well and there's no traffic, the team is back home by three or three-thirty in the afternoon. Brenda takes a nap while Carlos feeds the dog again and prepares dinner. when Brenda wakes up, she'll go for another run, then it's time for dinner and off to bed early in the evening.

It's a grueling schedule, and one that requires a lot of diligence. But Carlos says it has its advantages, especially because he lives with Brenda, meaning he knows exactly what she's eating, and what kind of lifestyle she's living away from the track.

"I think it's the optimal situation because, as a coach, you can't control what your athlete does -- what they eat, how late they stay up," Carlos says. "And I feel like Brenda and I work so well together that we know she goes to bed early, she eats right. Most coaches don't know that stuff."

When the stress of training overwhelms Brenda, Carlos will drive her to her parents' house, one hour away, for a home-cooked meal and some relaxation. He says that usually does the trick, helping keep spirits high. Besides: After the struggles they faced early on, today's challenges on the track seem small by comparison.

***

Carlos began training Brenda in 2010. A few years in, the results really started to come in. In 2013, she won a bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 2013 World Championships, by far her greatest accomplishment to that point. Earlier this summer, she competed in both the 800- and 1500-meter runs at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Brenda Martinez

Although she was knocked out of competition in the 800 when she fell in a pile-up involving multiple runners, Brenda secured her first trip to the Olympics with a lean at the finish line in the 1500.

Now, after winning multiple medals at international world championships and now punching her own ticket to the Summer Olympics, Brenda says it's "definitely" fulfilling to have achieved her dreams on her own. But she doesn't dwell on any bitterness or animosity.

"Ever since then we reached out to Dr. Vigil, and him just giving us a hand, we didn't take it for granted, and it just changed everything in how we view things," Brenda says. "We're more grateful than ever, we just try to find things that we're grateful for.

"Success revolves around happiness, and we were just really happy."

Carlos, too, has dispensed with any feelings of negativity, and not just because everything worked out in the end.

"I like to tell people, 'I feel like it had to happen that way for us to be where we are at,'" Carlos says. "We wouldn't have been successful with another group.

"That's what she was put on this earth for. We don't have to take the path that everyone else takes."

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Follow Jonathan Crowl on Twitter @JonathanCrowl.