It was Chuck Martin’s first week of swim practice at the University of Maine and head coach Alan Switzer offered his swimmers an opportunity to skip practice if they could complete a challenge that met with Switzer’s approval.
“I told him I could beat the school record in the 500-meter freestyle,” recalled Martin.
Switzer found that to be a worthy challenge and Martin promptly went out and broke it.
That was one of the several fond memories University of Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee Martin made during his four years on the Orono campus.
Now 57, Martin still owns the school record in the 500 freestyle at 4 minutes, 36.10 seconds and, at one time, he also held the record in the 200- and 1,650-meter freestyles.
Another highlight came later that first season.
“We moved up to swim in the Eastern Seaboards and we swam against Harvard at the Wallace Pool (in Orono). They had a two-time world record-holder in Bobby Hackett. Swimming next to Bobby Hackett was very special. I competed with him for the first 300 of the 1,000 meters,” said Martin.
Hackett as a 16-year-old had won an Olympic silver medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the 1976 Montreal summer games.
Martin took an interesting path to UMaine.
He grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bethel Park and his father, Charles, a steel worker who became a trucker when the steel mills closed, always wanted to move to Maine and become a lobsterman.
The Martins had spent summers in Maine, then his father and mother (Patty) eventually purchased land and built a home in Roque Bluffs in 1977. They also had a boat house, clam shack and a bait house.
“You could never get the smell (from the bait house) off your fingers,” joked Martin who, like his parents, fell in love with the state of Maine.
Martin’s decision to attend UMaine was solidified by Switzer.
“He really impressed me. I had visited the University of Wisconsin and they told me most engineering students did five years because of the demands of practice and school. They said if a class interfered with practice, I shouldn’t take the class,” said Martin. “But Al Switzer said academics came first and he would set up a practice so I could take the classes I needed (and graduate in four years).
“I came from modest means, so that was important to me,” said Martin.
He earned a degree in civil engineering from UMaine and went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Maryland.
Martin went to work for Chicago Bridge & Iron Company before tiring of the extensive travel and joining Clark Construction in Bethesda, Maryland, where he has spent the last 21 years. He is a project executive.
He said his days at UMaine had an incredible impact on him with the “the balance between sports and school you were afforded there.”
Martin also cherished the personal relationships he was able to develop.
“I had a solid connection with a lot of my professors as well as with Alan Switzer,” said Martin.
He has actually worked with the son of one of his professors, structural engineering professor Richard Nightingale.
Another of his professors was Gary Thorne, who taught business law at UMaine and is now the MASN Sports play-by-play announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.
Thorne will also be inducted into the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame on Sept. 8.
“It’s funny. All my other classes were in engineering but now I spend 80 percent of my time on contract law and leases. The higher you move up, the less engineering you do,” quipped Martin.
He admitted that he was surprised when he learned he was going to be inducted into the hall of fame.
“I’m honored and humbled. A lot of people had a lot to do with the opportunities I’ve had in my life,” said Martin. “They gave up a lot to give me the chance to do things.”
Another special memory came during his senior year when he suggested to Switzer that in addition to selling oranges for the swim team’s fundraiser on Parents Weekend, he would have his father supply lobsters for a lobster bake on the mall.
It was successful and continued after he graduated.
“Every year it kept growing and growing,” said a proud Martin.
Martin has two children with ex-wife Patty: Caitlin, who is a high school teacher, and Charles, who is a high school lacrosse player and wrestler.
He has a stepdaughter, Sharon Kusiak, with current wife Rita Sato.