Maria Michta-Coffey has traveled the world, raced against the faces of 15 countries across four continents, competed in two Olympic Games, and has made her name as the top race walker in the United States. But, as she’s flown across seas of blue and walked around countries of lush greens, Michta-Coffey never has lost sight of her home base: Long Island.
As worldly as she’s become, Michta-Coffey’s story is still one that is deeply rooted on the dusty roads of Suffolk County. She grew up in Nesconset, lives in Farmingville, graduated from Sachem High School, earned her doctorate in Biomedical Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, and now teaches biology at Suffolk County Community College.
That’s a lot of LI.
So, when she was asked to participate in Sunday’s Suffolk County Marathon, Michta-Coffey — who placed 22nd in the 20-kilometer race walk at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio — couldn’t say yes fast enough.
“I like to give back because Long Island has given me so much,” Michta-Coffey said Wednesday. “It’s where I got my start in race walking, in high school at Sachem. If it wasn’t for the Walk USA group with Gary Westerfield and Long Island Track and Field as a whole helping support me, and the races they put on, being an Olympian would not be something that materialized.”
Michta-Coffey, 30, is both conscious and proud of her role as an ambassador for track and field on Long Island.
“My whole life, I’ve been on Long Island or New York City-based,” she said. “Who knows who the future generation is? And if I can help them find who they are, then that’s incredible.”
Michta-Coffey, who is preparing for the national 30-kilometer race walk championships, scheduled for Nov. 6 in Hauppauge, will use the half-marathon course as a training exercise, walking alongside the 2,500 runners from 21 states, the District of Columbia, and six countries who are expected to participate in the marathon, half marathon, and 5K.
“We’ll look for a time, but not a fast time,” she said. “We’ll look for a time that shows I’m in solid shape, training wise . . . . something in the 5:30-5:40 per kilometer pace. Aside from the time, it will be looking at my heart rate and seeing what my actual effort is, how hard is my body working at this particular time. That would give me a really good indication of my fitness.”
The race will begin and end in downtown Patchogue, starting on Waverly Avenue and Montauk Highway before traveling through Blue Point, Bayport, Sayville, Oakdale, and Great River. The full marathon will turn around in Heckscher State Park before entering the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River, while the half marathon will turn around on the campus of St. John’s University in Oakdale. Both the marathon and half-marathon will travel back down Montauk Highway, where they will finish on West Main Street, west of the entrance to Briarcliffe College.
The main race will serve as a Boston Marathon qualifier. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who will run the full marathon, will present an award to Northport’s Mikey Brannigan, who won gold in the 1,500 meters at the Paralympics in Rio in September.