Hunter Martin recently qualified for the adaptive track and field championships in Denver later this month.

Members of the Portal community are raising money to buy him a new track chair as well as defray travel costs.

If you would like to contribute, you can donate to Hunter’s brother, Tony Mullis, on Venmo (@Tony-Mullis-1).

PORTAL, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s training day for Hunter Martin and his coach takes no excuses.

“The tougher these situations are, the easier it’s hopefully going to be on the track. Psychologically, when we get over that barrier, everything else is going to be easy.”

Not that Hunter is looking for anything easy, of course.

“He doesn’t look for handouts, he doesn’t look for someone taking it easy on him,” Higgins said. “He says he wants to work hard, so I’m going to push him.”

Now it’s time to go outside and do laps around the Portal High School parking lot, the 100-degree heat and crushing humidity hanging oppressively over the blacktop.

But those conditions are nothing compared to what Hunter, a wheelchair track athlete, has been through to get to the starting line.

“I have been paralyzed since I was five years old,” Hunter said. “Just because you might be in a wheelchair, you can still get out, there’s plenty of sports to do.”

Hunter has a disease called transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord that severely restricts mobility.

His mom, Anna, remembers how it started like it was yesterday.

“We had his birthday party on Saturday, he went to bed on Saturday night and he woke up paralyzed from the neck down on his birthday that Sunday,” Anna said.

She took Hunter to doctors in Atlanta within the week. It looked like his race might be over before it even began.

“They’re telling you your child might not be able to walk again, they tell you he may not be able to breathe again on his own. They give you no hope,” Anna said.

Hunter could not walk, but the Portal community would not let him go without sports.

“This is such a small community so everybody knows everybody,” Hunter said. “We all get along some sort of way.”

“I’ve known him since he was a baby,” Higgins said. “He finally got here to the middle school. Back in 6th grade, I asked him he wanted to do track. Finally in seventh grade, he decided to come out and try it.”

Anna saw the change instantly.

“I believe that he has more of a positive attitude when he’s competing or practicing and being active.”

As Hunter improved, he started to dream of excellence on the high school track when disaster struck last year.

“I couldn’t get out of bed and I was sick,” Hunter said. “We thought for awhile it was COVID but it really wasn’t. I had spinal meningitis and nobody knew it.”

“He was sick, he was losing weight,” Anna added. “It’s very hard to see when your child is struggling and nobody really knows what’s wrong.”

Just as Hunter was going through multiple risky surgeries, the worst happened.

“My family got COVID and my dad, he was fine and then it really downhill in about a day. And then he passed away,” Martin said.

“When you think that nothing else bad could ever happen in your life and then something bad like losing a husband or losing a parent happens, it’s something that you can’t even describe,” Anna said.

With a grieving heart, Hunter got back in his chair and pushed forward, honing his skills with every practice.

“It’s just a gift from higher above that he has that determination and that drive to want to be the best,” Higgins said.

That drive took him all the way to the 2022 GHSA State Championship meet in May.

“That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been going into something, knowing that was something really big that I’ve worked all year for. So I didn’t want to mess up,” Hunter said.

Hunter did a little better than that, winning both of the races he competed in; the 200-meter race and the 800-meter race – two state titles for one extraordinary athlete.

“I was hollering,” Anna said. “I was just jumping up and down and hollering ‘oh my god, he won, he won.’”

As he accepted his medal, Hunter couldn’t help but feel his father’s presence there with him.

“When I was on the podium, I felt like I did what he would have wanted me to do, which is do something and don’t quit and just do what you want to do,” Hunter said.

Practice is over for the day and it’s time to get out of the heat, but tomorrow’s challenges will come soon enough and Hunter will be there, waiting to overcome them foot by foot.