Just because Michael Christian Martinez hails from a tropical country does not mean he can’t be good enough for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia.

The 17-year-old Filipino is the sole representative of the Philippines at Sochi and is the first to participate in the Winter Olympics in 22 years. He is also the first figure skater to represent a country from Southeast Asia in the Winter Games, according to NBC.

Martinez began skating in 2005 at the age of 8. Hailing from Parañaque, Manila, Martinez started his figure skating journey at an ice skating rink inside a mall, where he found the inspiration to pursue the sport.

Born with asthma, Martinez couldn’t engage in sports.

“I literally grew up in the hospital as I was very sick. I couldn’t take up any sport. I tried outdoor sports when I was younger, but I easily got asthma attacks so I stopped,” Martinez explained in his bio for Sochi 2014.

But one day while shopping with his mother, skaters at the mall’s ice skating rink caught his attention and he immediately wanted to try it out.

Figure skating, however, did not bode well for his asthma right away. He said he continued taking asthma maintenance medicine, especially since the rink was cold.

“Year after year my health keeps improving, so my mother fully supported me to continue skating. She said it’s better to spend the money on skating than in the hospital,” he said.

The 5-foot-8 Martinez has since underwent trainings both in Manila and in the US (starting 2010) with his coach John Nicks, who became an instrument in fulfilling Martinez’s vision to compete at Sochi. He is also coached by Ilia Kulik since 2010, his mother Maria Teresa Martinez, and Viktor Kudriavtsev, who coached him since 2013.

He made his figure skating debut in the 2010-2011 season of the Junior Grand Prix series and has participated in succeeding events. He also bagged the gold medal at the 2012 Crystal Skate of Romania, an annual senior-level international figure skating competition.

His young figure skating career did not come without hitches, though, as he sustained multiple injuries. His most recent was a fractured ankle that took him out for two months in 2013.

Already a high school graduate, Martinez participated for the second time in the 2013 World Junior Championships and placed 5th.

Martinez, who has cited Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao as his hero, secured a Winter Olympics berth at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy last September, where he landed at 7th place in men’s singles with a score of 189.46. It was the last qualifying event for the Winter Games.

As of February 3, 2014, Martinez ranks 30th on the International Skating Union World Standings.

Martinez has been in Russia since the start of the year training for the Games that officially kicks off on Friday, February 7.

This will only be the Philippines’ fourth time to participate in the Winter Olympics. The country was part of the Winter Games in 1972, 1988 and 1992 and has sent 4 participants in two events: Alpine Skiing and Luge.

This story originally appeared in Rappler. Above photo by David W. Carmichael.

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