A Hand in Victory

It is fair to say that Miriam Martins is a handball star in the making. The Lagos-based athlete talks to David Lugg about the rigours of a busy sporting life and playing for her hometown club.

To the uninitiated, handball is a seven-a-side team sport that, to make a crude comparison, is an approximation of football and basketball. Players attempt to score past the goalkeeper but with the use of their hands rather than feet. In a country dominated by football, handball remains a popular sport in Portugal. It is played widely throughout the country, and the participation rate is increasing. 

The Algarve is no exception, with many towns and cities having their own local team. One of the region’s most high-profile sides is Clube Gil Eanes (in Lagos), a leading sporting light for girls’ and women’s handball. Eighteen-year-old Miriam Martins has worked her way up through the youth set-up and is now a regular player for the first team. I start by asking Miriam about the experience of playing for her hometown club.

“It’s spectacular for Lagos to have a team in the first division. The club and the team have worked hard to reach the division. It was a very important milestone for me, my teammates and my club.” Indeed, Clube Gil Eanes deserves enormous credit for its lofty standing in the handball hierarchy and for being a remarkable inspiration for young athletes in the region. Miriam herself has undertaken an extraordinary path to get to where she is today. As well as helping her club become national champions at the under-17 and under-20 level, she has represented Portugal for the under-17 and under-18 sides. I asked Miriam how it felt to play for her country.

“I think that for any athlete, representing their country is the cherry on the cake and it was no different for me. I can still feel the happiness I felt the first time I was called up to the national team. In my first training camp, I was competing against two of the best teams in Europe. For me, this call-up was a recognition of my work. I knew it was going to be tough, but it was an incredible experience. Every training camp and national team match is very important, but taking part in the European Championship (in Montenegro) in 2023 was truly one of the best experiences of my handball life.”

Travelling extensively for both her country and her club can be exhausting, but Miriam sees it as an opportunity to bond with her team. “It’s undeniably tiring. All the other teams that play in the first division are from far away, which means hours of travel. But despite the fatigue, it’s these shared experiences that bring our team closer together.”

Despite her demanding handball schedule, Miriam remains steadfast in her pursuit of education and has aspirations of attending university. Her dedication to both her sport and her studies is admirable. “Between training, travelling and games, handball occupies the majority of my time. It may seem that handball and school dominate my life, but I’m genuinely content with the opportunities they provide me.”

These are exciting times for Miriam and, indeed, women’s handball in Portugal. The national side has recently qualified for this year’s European Championships for only the second time in their history. In fact, some of the players are also her teammates at Gil Eanes. “It’s great for me to be able to share the pitch with players who have represented the Portugal senior national team. They help me develop as an individual. I learn a lot from playing with them and, of course, they help the team succeed. For me personally, this achievement (qualification) shows me that, as a Portuguese player, if I keep working hard, I can achieve successes like this.”

It seems that, with the right guidance, the sky’s the limit for Miriam Martins. She was recently awarded the best female athlete by the Algarve Handball Association and was honoured as a Revelation Athlete by the Lagos city council. It’s certainly refreshing to see young Algarve talent being recognised and there is no doubt that such publicity will help push her onto greater things. Which begs the important question of where her future lies?

Would she consider leaving the region or even Portugal if it meant furthering her career in the sport? “My short-term future is a little uncertain as there is no certainty about where I’m going to study, but it’s something I won’t leave out of my future plans. I know one thing for sure, I want to keep playing and I hope the future brings me a lot of sporting and professional success.” With this attitude to life, Miriam has every chance of success and we wish her well.


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