20KM Race Walker Doesn't Expect To Medal, But Takes Pride In The Many Successes She Has Already Enjoyed

By Peter Schwartz
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Four years ago in London, Long Island’s Maria Michta-Coffey participated in her first Olympics. The track and field star from Nesconset finished in 28th place in the 20km women’s race walk.

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She’ll be ready to improve on that when she participates in this year’s Rio Games on Aug. 19.

Michta-Coffey has been asked many times how she expects to do in Brazil and she recently addressed her chances on her official website, http://www.mariamichta.com. She gave a refreshing and brutally honest answer to the questions that comes up the most, including the most obvious query.

Can she win the event in Rio?

“The simple answer is no,” wrote Michta-Coffey. “No, I will not win. No, I will not medal. And no, I probably won’t be top 10. No, my time will probably not be faster because Rio will be a lot hotter than London was. Would I love to be an Olympic gold medalist? Of course! I’d be crazy for saying no. But I also know it is unrealistic.”

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Michta-Coffey’s passion was soccer when she was young, but she gravitated to race walking when she was at Sachem High School. She actually started dreaming about being an Olympian when she watched Kerri Strug nail that vault landing at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Since competing in high school teams, Michta-Coffey has been a mainstay on the U.S. team, taking part in events on four continents and 11 countries.

After graduating high school in 2004, Michta-Coffey moved on to LIU-Post and graduated as the valedictorian with a degree in biology. She wasn’t able to pick up that diploma on graduation day as she missed the commencement ceremony to compete at the 2008 World Cup.

Ironically, she also missed her high school graduation four years earlier because of Junior Nationals and her graduate school graduation due to the Pan Am Cup in 2015.

Michta-Coffey competed at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, but a leg injury impacted her performance. She finished in fourth place, so her Olympic debut would have to wait four years.

“There are ways for adversity to strengthen you,” Michta-Coffey wrote in her July 24 blog post on her website. “The path to becoming an Olympian never has and never will be easy. Therefore, get ready to embrace the pain, learn how to cope with the setbacks, find a support system you can call on when the going gets tough beyond belief.”

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In 2012, she took a six-month leave of absence from grad school so that she could focus on the London Olympics.

Born in Stony Brook and now residing in Farmingville on Long Island, the 30-year-old Michta-Coffey is a five-time USA outdoor champion in the 20km race walk, winning consecutive titles from 2010-14. She also won five USA indoor titles during that same period of time and was the 2015 USATF outdoor runner-up.

A lot has happened in Michta-Coffey’s life since the London Games four years ago.

In 2013, she came in 33rd at the World Championships in Moscow, but improved to 20th at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. At the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Michta-Coffey finished in seventh with a time of 1:33:07.

Away from competition, Michta-Coffey had a year to remember in 2014 as she married her high school sweetheart, Joe Coffey, thus the official change in completion name from Maria Michta to Maria Michta-Coffey.

Regardless of how she does in Rio, Michta-Coffey has some other goals as she represents her country.

“I hope that my smile inspires others back home to follow their own dreams, make their own paths, and believe in their own potential,” Michta-Coffey wrote. “I hope it helps to expose others to race walking and over time a better system is in place domestically to develop race walkers. I hope that others realize you, too, can be a student AND an athlete at the highest of levels, if you, too, feel passionately about both.”

Michta-Coffey, who received her PhD in Microbiology from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 2014, is heading to Brazil looking to improve on her personal best time of 1:30:49 from 2014. She also enjoys reading, running and swimming, is a United States National Senior member of the Walk USA race-walking club.

There are many athletes from our area that will be competing in Rio. Some of them have realistic chances of winning a medal and some of them don’t. Michta-Coffey is being honest with herself and everyone when she says she won’t win, won’t medal, or won’t even finish in the top 10.

“When this amazing journey has come to an end I know I will look back on it all with only the fondest of memories,” Michta-Coffey wrote.

To her, standing on the podium isn’t the real objective of traveling to Rio because she’s accomplished something far more important.

She’s already a winner because of how she inspires other athletes.

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Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @MariaMichta and @TeamUSA