LI racewalker Michta makes Olympic team
EUGENE, Ore. -- Nesconset's Maria Michta is bound for the Olympics.
Michta won the USA Olympic Trials women's 20,000-meter racewalk Sunday, making her the only U.S. racewalker heading for London.
Soon after she crossed the finish line -- and was greeted by the bear hugs of family and friends -- Michta let her emotions flow.
"Oh, my God, this is so awesome. I can't really believe this has happened," she said.
"I was 10 years old when I watched the Olympics on TV. I saw [gymnast] Kerri Strug get that landing. I just fell in love with the Olympics, and that's when I knew I wanted to be an Olympian. I guess every single little girl wanted to, too.
"At that point, I played soccer. So I thought I'd play soccer on an Olympic team. But that's not the reality of it.
"I found racewalking and that became my reality. And now I'm an Olympian."
Michta, 26, graduated from Sachem North High School and LIU Post, and now is a doctoral candidate in microbiology, analyzing the hepatitis-C virus at Manhattan's Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
She had put that "real life" on hold, though, to prepare for the biggest race of her life.
It wasn't without its challenges, as Miranda Melville of upstate Rush was on her heels.
"I was just pushing and pushing," said Melville, 22. "I pushed as hard as I could. But I never could get past Maria. Today, she was too tough."
The race -- and the coveted trip to London -- went to Michta in 1:34:53.33. Melville, just 15 meters back, finished in 1:34:56.92, and Erin Gray, the local Eugene product, was third, finishing in 1:35:40.05.
Michta was fortunate to have found her Olympic event. New York and Maine are the only states that include racewalking on the full scholastic track-and-field program, and in New York it's for girls only.
She learned the basics of racewalking under Sachem North coach Peter McNeill, a former distance runner at Rutgers. And she got advanced coaching from Smithtown's Gary Westerfield, who guides the "Walk USA" club program, and then Tim Seaman, the two-time 20K Olympian out of North Babylon.
Michta proved a fast learner. She began making national teams, progressing from the youth and junior ranks to the U.S. senior national team. She placed fifth at the USA 20K Nationals in 2006, and moved up to fourth in 2007 and third in 2009.
By 2010, she was the U.S. 20K outdoor champion and she retained the crown in 2011. That set the stage for Olympic Year 2012.
On a six-month leave of absence from Mount Sinai, she trained harder than ever -- and ran into problems. In May, she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. World Cup team with a foot injury.
But she rehabbed well and came to Eugene ready and more than able.
"I just want to make the U.S. proud," she said.