Lots of people walk for exercise, but Maria Michta walks to win.

Michta, a sophomore on the C.W. Post cross country team, is a world-class race walker. She began competing in the sport when she was a freshman in high school when she became a member of the winter track and field team in order to stay in shape between her soccer and lacrosse seasons.

Maria Michta has competed all over the world and hopes to make it to the 2008 Olympics.
"In New York, they have race walking in the state high school meet," said Michta. "My coach had everyone try race walking that winter. I tried it and had natural technique for it. Within a few races, I got my time low enough to qualify for nationals."

The native of Nesconset, N.Y., was so good she started working with a race walking coach from WalkUSA, Gary Westerfield, and her times have continued to get lower and lower.

Michta owns the American Junior 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer road records, and last July, she bettered her own record in the 10-kilometer track race at the Pan American Junior Championships in Windsor, Ontario. She clocked a time of 49:43.85 to win the bronze medal, 40 seconds better than her record-setting time that won the U.S. junior title in June. The American Junior mark of 50:26.9 by Lisa Chumbley stood since 1993.

Race walking is not recognized by the NCAA as an event, but C.W. Post was a great choice for Michta because the Pioneers compete in the Collegiate Track Championships and some invitationals in the winter and spring seasons that sponsor it. In addition to running on the cross country team, Michta wins points in any race walking event that comes her way during the track season.

"I had to find a place that would allow me to race walk and still run on the team," Michta said. "Also, the location was important because I'm only about 35 minutes from Coach Westerfield and I go to practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays once cross country season is over to train with him."

As a member of the cross country team, Michta also does not have the added pressure of being the squad's best runner, which she enjoys.

"It's nice not to be the leader on the team and be in the back of the pack, and get some experience from that end," said Michta.

Even though cross country and race walking may seem similar, it takes time for Michta to adjust from one to the other.

"It's a big transition from running to race walking," said Michta. "It takes me about a month to get down to my race walking times. Switching from race walking to running is approximately another month of transition before I get into the right rhythm."

Michta has competed all over the world " Italy, Germany, Peru, and Canada " but she hopes to add a few more destinations to the list. She will first try to make the USA's senior team, after moving up to a new age bracket this year, to participate in the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in La Coruña, Spain, but she really wants to get a Beijing, China stamp in her passport with a trip to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

"I have dreams of making it to the Olympics, and my coach has me shooting for 2008," said Michta.

Michta shares her love for the sport with her family and is just hoping her youngest sister does not catch her.

"My two younger sisters have tried race walking just for fun in our summer series meets on Long Island," said Michta. "Katie has really taken off and I feel like she's going to break all of my school records and eventually my Junior National records. She's only nine years old, but she can really get her legs moving."

C.W. Post is ranked seventh in the latest Division II Northeast Regional poll, and Michta is very positive about the Pioneers' season. "We're getting better and better each year, and we have high hopes this year," Michta said.