By MARY ELYSEE VELASCO
Days and days of practice. Hours and hours of exercise. No complaints.
To say that 15-year-old Sky Martin is a hard worker would be an understatement.
When asked to do more curl-ups with a 12-pound medicine ball or to do more sets of pull-ups, Sky answered with “how many” instead of “how come?” Her only other response was a quick nod before tackling her next challenge.
Her latest challenge? Volleyball.
Sky, a born and raised Gainesville resident who just finished up her freshman year at Oak Hall School, is playing on the varsity volleyball team at 5’7” while the average player is about 6’2”.
Before volleyball, Sky spent nearly 10 years of her life as a gymnast. From a toddler enjoying Mommy and Me classes, to a teen competing at the state level and earning second place in her division, she is no stranger to competitive sports.
She was looking for something new when she retired from gymnastics in middle school. A longtime family friend convinced Sky to hop off the balance beam and onto the volleyball court. In the same week that Sky decided to quit gymnastics, she was already hooked to the net.
At that point, 12-year-old Sky was nowhere near the height requirement.
“She had to be 5’3” at most,” her father, Mike Martin, said with a laugh. “She was tiny.”
Her lithe and little stature may have been an advantage on the mat, but there was no room for that in a game of giants. Sky was immediately cubby-holed into libero, a defensive position at the back lines.
“She was never in the front line, she never got to try it out,” Michele Martin, her mother and a past cross-country runner for the University of Florida, said. “But Sky always gives 110 percent. She ignored when other coaches said she couldn’t play a certain position.”
Sky knew she was about five or six inches shorter than many of the other girls, but she was determined to jump higher than them all.
And it is her determination and dedication that sets her apart. Michele recalled that during her daughter’s gymnastic years, Sky never missed a workout. Sky even asked her parents to bring her to the gym the day she was released from the hospital after she experienced problems with cysts.
Another instance of Sky’s proven determination was at her first volleyball practice. As she went for a dive, one of the front line girls accidentally stomped on her hand and broke it, but Sky only offhandedly revealed the incident to her parents once practice was over in order to keep playing.
Sky is known as the girl who looks forward to team core drills, who finishes wind sprints and who holds her planks. She is the girl who always received the Presidential Fitness Award, a high-ranked, nationwide challenge issued by President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, since the first grade.
She is famous for breaking two of her house windows while she was practicing overhand serves on her driveway and for losing her ball when she would hit it over the roof. To remedy this, her dad built a fence on top of the house. It was a temporary fix. Once Sky’s serves got better, volleyballs continued to fly over the house. He had to go up a second time and build the fence even higher.
“I was really bad at overhand serving for three-fourths of my first year playing,” Sky said. “My Mom would look up techniques to help me and my dad would hit balls to me as long as I wanted. They took me to St. Augustine beach on a cold, windy night near New Year’s Eve. I kept practicing over and over again. And then I finally got it.”
All of her efforts helped Sky achieve what was supposed to be impossible. Despite her height, she went from the back row libero position to a front row outside hitter in a matter of two years.
Not only does Sky play for her school’s varsity team coached by Cari Martin, she is also a part of Gainesville Athletic Club coached by Eddie Maynard and competes with them on a national level. At the end of 2011, Sky received an honorable mention for her volleyball performance in the Gainesville Sun.
En route to an out-of-town competition, Sky convinced her parents to take a pit stop at a volleyball court so that she could warm up before the big game. Her drive to improve doesn’t seem to have brakes.
“I was so short coming out of gymnastics. I never thought I’d get to be a hitter,” Sky said.
But Sky is steadily making up more and more for her undersized reach. She is jumping higher than ever before. Since she began working out with exercise physiologist Russell Deane at Xceed Fitness Training in January, Sky has increased her vertical jump by six inches. With a small running start, Sky can clear about four feet in the air.
Deane measured her jump with a Vertec measuring tool and pushed her to aim for one-and-a-half feet higher than a volleyball net.
He guided her through lifting an Olympic bar that weighed almost 135 pounds and he led her through drills that forced her to be strong and fast in short bursts, just as her sport requires her to be.
But more often than not, Deane finds himself having to remind Sky to take a break. In her sessions with him, Sky never wants to rest and will reluctantly take less than half-minute pauses.
“She doesn’t mess around,” Deane said. “I have 300-pound football players who can’t handle this stuff. I wish everyone worked as hard as she does.”
When sports are not consuming her time, Sky can be found lounging with a cup of Mochi frozen yogurt or a roll of sushi. Her family, an active and adventurous bunch, regularly brings her out to surf and water ski.
At school, the sweet and soft-spoken Sky is just as much a superstar as she is on the court. While Sky may be modest, her father has no qualms about boasting about his daughter’s successes.
“She has a sense of humor and is an all-around good kid,” Mike said. “She never had a B on her report card.”
Sky is also fond of being a funky fashionista. She wears BCBG dresses with combat boots, mixes crazy styles and somehow makes it work, Michele said with a slight shrug of her shoulders.
Sky conquered the challenge of her height, but her next endeavor is to continue onto college.
“My dream school is Stanford,” she said. “I want to play beach volleyball because of the atmosphere, and with only two people on each team, it gives me more control of the game.”
Her goals are in the distant, uncertain future, but one thing is for sure: she aims sky-high.