Two years ago, Elija Godwin was undergoing emergency surgery after a freak javelin accident punctured his lung during a training session. Now, the University of Georgia rising senior is one of 31 Bulldogs headed to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
It will be the second-largest contingent of Georgia athletes, alumni and coaches to ever compete in the Olympic and Paralympic games, just behind the 2016 Rio Games.
“All these great athletes that I competed against throughout the trials — we all get to suit up in the same gear and go at it with each other,” Godwin said. “I’m ready to compete alongside them and see what we can do.”
A human development and family sciences major, Godwin is no stranger to competitive sports, having grown up in the Peach State playing football with no intention stopping. It wasn’t until high school, Godwin took up track and field as a way to stay in shape during the summer.
But the freedom the sport offered hooked him.
“With football, you depend on 10 other guys on the field for success,” Godwin said. “Who you have around you can determine the outcome of a game. Track was a lot different from that. I was able to succeed anywhere. I was more in control of the outcome of my season.”
Godwin graduated from Newton with the 2016-17 Gatorade Georgia Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year award and a silver medal at the 2018 World Junior Championships already under his belt.
The more he trained, the larger his audience grew.
“It was very inspiring because people wanted to see me do bigger things,” Godwin said. “They wanted to come out and watch me race, which made me want to go out there and do it more and more.”
Godwin continued his upward track at UGA. He’d earned the 2019 SEC Co-Men’s Freshman Runner of the Year award and began preparing for the outdoor championships when disaster struck.
During practice, Godwin fell on a javelin, collapsing his left lung. Hours later, he woke up from surgery, sore but determined.
The healing journey would require perseverance and weeks of rehabilitation. Godwin faced the challenge head on.
“It was a bad incident, so people key in on it a lot, but for me, it was just another obstacle that I had to work past. I couldn’t let it hold me down,” Godwin said. “I had to battle through it.”
And he did. When COVID-19 delayed the 2020 Summer Olympic Games by a year, Godwin hit the track harder than ever, determined to not just recover from his injury but to overcome it.
Now, Godwin’s sights are set on the finish line as he prepares for the 4x400-meter relay.
He’s headed to Tokyo alongside former teammate and 2019 Gatorade Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year Jasmine Moore, who qualified in the triple jump as a second-year student before transferring.
The pair will compete on the USA Track and Field team alongside six Georgia alumni, including Keturah Orji, who earned her bachelor’s degree from UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences in 2018, and her master’s degree from the Mary Frances Early College of Education in 2019.
Other Bulldogs competing for gold this summer include: Duné Coetzee, an incoming first-year student at UGA will swim who will swim the 800-meter relay for South Africa; Karel Tilga, a rising fourth-year economics major who will represent Estonia in the decathlon along with UGA alumni Johannes Erm.
“We are so incredibly proud of our 30-plus Olympians representing their countries and the University of Georgia,” said UGA athletic director Josh Brooks. “The fact that we have so many athletes competing in such a broad variety of sports is a testament to the elite student-athletes that this great university is attracting.
“Our student-athletes are making an impact in the classroom, in the community and on the premier competitive stage.”