By Raymond Rolak
Maria Mitchta is living her dream. With help, determination and the support of a whole community she is going to London for the 2012 Olympics. Her sport is 20,000 meter Race Walking and she won the U.S. Trials held in Eugene, Oregon.
Maria talks confidently about her support, especially from her high school sweetheart Joey Coffey. She gushes with pride about her Polish-American roots. Her family is paramount to her, especially her mom and dad, Sue and Rich Michta. She brags about her siblings, Ricky, Kristie and Katie and growing up on Long Island, New York. They are all going to London to cheer her on, to help support her excellence.
She is inspired by the stories from her grandfather, Chester, who came from a rural village in Poland.
At the 20-K Race Walk trials at the University of Oregon, her mother went hoarse with the constant yells of encouragement. The former Long Island University-Post cross country and track standout had a finish line time of 1 hour, 34 minutes, 53 seconds at the Olympic Trials.
All the support helps. The real satisfaction comes from her individual perseverance. It has been a long road. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association is one of the few states that have Race Walk in the state Track and Field championships. Mitchta was a three time state champion at Sachem High School in Long Island.
â€œI played soccer and really enjoyed that,â€ she said. â€œMy mom and dad really gave us all great opportunities.â€
Maria is a constant ambassador for her sport and she has become a world traveler. She has already competed in 11 different countries. She is the first Long Island University-Post student-athlete to ever qualify for an Olympic team.
Most impressive is her focus toward academics. She graduated as Valedictorian in 2008 from Long Island University-Post with a 4.0 GPA. The determined doctoral candidate is working in microbiology, analyzing the Hepatitis-C virus at Manhattanâ€™s Mount Sinai College of Medicine.
Race walking differs from running in that it requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground and straighten their front knee when the foot makes contact with the ground, keeping it straightened until the knee passes under the body. Judges evaluate the technique of race walkers and report fouls which may lead to disqualification. All decisions are done by the eye of the judge and no outside technology is used in making judging resolutions.
The U.S. Olympic Trials in Track and Field were at the historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The Olympic Trials had more than 1,000 qualifiers competing for Olympic berths in their respective events.
Maria said it best in her diary, â€œThe logo of the trials was: Amazing Awaits! And thatâ€™s exactly how I came away from that race, amazing awaits, I had 4 years to turn an 8th place non-Olympic Standard performance into a first place victory complete with an Olympic Games Standard. Every day brings me one more step closer to achieving my dream. Itâ€™s what motivates me every day to get up on frigid cold or sweltering hot mornings and get out there training, often alone, all in the pursuit of making the 2012 Olympic Team. My motto has always been Dream, Believe, and Become. Iâ€™ve had the Dream since 1996, I truly began to believe in myself in 2010, and I am currently training to my fullest until I Become an Olympian!â€
Michta has become an Olympian. Maria, along with her USA teammates, is now headed for the Olympic Village in London.
The Race Walk is dominated by Russiaâ€™s Olga Kaniskina. Kaniskina won gold in Beijing and since then she also won the 2011 world championship. Other top rivals figure to be Russian teammates Yelena Lashmanova and Anisya Kirdyapkina. Chinaâ€™s Liu Hong and Shenjie Qieyang, along with Italyâ€™s Elisa Rigaudo will be medal contenders. Michta will be the lone American competitor.
NBC will televise 12 hours of live Track and Field events from London. The opening ceremonies will be Friday, July 27th and the womenâ€™s 20-K Race Walk finals at the 2012 London Olympics will be August 11.
John Dabrowski contributed