In 1996, at the age of 10, Maria Michta fell in love with the Olympic Games. From then on, she dreamed of being there and one day competing against the best in the world. Little did she know, her dream would be fulfilled and she would board a plane heading to the Olympics today.
“On Aug. 11, at 12 p.m. local time, or 5 p.m. London time, I’ll be race walking the 20K, which is 12.4 miles,” said Michta, 26, of Nesconset. “Race walking is something that allows me to excel, but also allows me to be competitive and push myself.”
The night before leaving to compete, Michta was honored at a concert in her hometown.
She received a proclamation from Suffolk County legislators John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) and Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) before Billy Joel tribute band Songs in the Attic performed at the Nesconset gazebo on Smithtown Boulevard.
Michta also received a ceremonial check of “$2,000 plus,” the product of donations from the community, toward sending her family to watch her at the games.
Michta, who graduated from Sachem North High School and Long Island University Post, will be the only American race walker heading to the games. When not competing she is a doctoral candidate in microbiology, analyzing the hepatitis-C virus at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan.
On July 1, she won the USA Olympic Trials women’s 20,000-meter race walk in Eugene, Ore., winning her a spot on the Olympic team with a time of 1:34:53:33.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Michta said. “It’s taken me 12 years of race walking to get to this point, to say that I am an Olympian, but you keep pushing every day until you reach it.”
Michael Haggerty, a fifth-grader at Oxhead Elementary in Centereach, held up a sign wishing her good luck. Michael, his brothers and their father, Ken Haggerty, who works in leg Kennedy’s office, met the Olympian for the first time.
“I want her to bring home the gold for us,” said Michael Haggerty, 10. “Make us all proud.”
Just three days before leaving for London, her boyfriend of nine years, Joe Coffey, proposed.
“It’s just fantastic being a part of it,” said Coffey, 25, of Farmingville, who also serves as her agent. “Our lives have pretty much been wrapped up in her race walking. At first, it’s a bit much, waking up early on Sunday mornings and missing social events with friends, but this past summer showed and proved that it was all worth it.”
Up to this point, Coffey said they had raised almost $14,000, including what was donated Tuesday night, which he said will “certainly cover flights and hotels for the family.”
“She was just a little Nesconset girl going to Sachem High School,” Coffey said. “With big aspirations and goals, but lofty as they may be, she was able to accomplish them through hard work and dedication.”
Above: The night before departing for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Maria Michta was honored at a concert in her hometown of Nesconset. She will compete for the United States in race walking. (July 24, 2012)