Elija Godwin had two goals for college. He wanted to run on a track and field team and play football. He accomplished the former and had plans to do the latter.
Then, last May, sitting in a hospital bed with a javelin lodged in his back, he didn’t know if he’d be able to do either again. All he knew was that he survived.
“That was the most terrifying moment of my life — when I felt like I couldn’t help myself,” Godwin said. “Usually, I could be like, ‘You know what, I got this, let me handle it.’ But I had to put all my faith in God.”
Godwin was impaled while running backward sprints on May 7, 2019, at Georgia track and field practice in preparation for the 2019 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The javelin was in his path, sticking out of the ground.
The sophomore sprinter has since made a full recovery. Unlike some of his teammates, who called him during the SEC championships freaking out about the mere sight of a javelin, Godwin doesn’t mind the exposure.
The 2020 season, Godwin said, can help him prove he can still excel athletically. Getting impaled was a source of motivation, not fear.
“When you’re sitting out there and you got this javelin in your back and you’re foaming at the mouth and you think that’s it for you, everything you do in your life from that point on is going to be done with a little more oomph,” Godwin said. “I put a little more effort into it. I got a little more heart.”
Godwin, who won the 2019 SEC Co-Men’s Freshman Runner of the Year, is one of two male sprinters, along with freshman Matthew Boling, who will play a major role for the Bulldogs at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships in College Station, Texas, which begin Feb. 28.
“It’s like it never happened,” Georgia head coach Petros Kyprianou said. “He’s back, good as new.”
Competing for college track and field championships wasn’t on Godwin’s mind until the summer before his sophomore year in high school. He originally used track as a way to condition for football.
“We got to get you on the track in the summertime,” Fred Sands, coach at the Covington-based summer track program Elite Speed Youth Athletics, told Godwin.
Godwin was reluctant, not wanting to give up his summer football workouts.
Sands had to convince Ginger Luby, Godwin’s mom, who made him do it. In his first summer track meet, Godwin took home a trophy for earning the most points as an individual.
“I was like, ‘Oh,’” Godwin said. “I didn’t really understand how far I could go. From there, it took off.”
As a sophomore, Godwin helped Newton High School in Covington win the 2016 Boys Class AAAAAA Track State Championship, sealing the program’s first title when he came from behind in the last leg of the 4x400-meter relay race.
“It was like a movie,” he said of that race.
His relationship with football soured when he was suspended for the first five games of his senior season. Kevin Barnes, Newton’s track and field coach and an assistant football coach at the time, said it was in response to Godwin’s absence at summer workouts while traveling around the country with Elite Speed.
“[The coaches said] ‘If you don’t do this and that, we won’t let you play.’ That’s something that kids in my area can’t accept. Football is just that important,” Godwin said. “But for me, track and field gave me that escape.”
Godwin still wanted to play football while also running track in college. He received offers to play football from seven schools, including Virginia and Central Michigan.
Godwin and Luby sat down with Kyprianou in his office, and he explained the benefits of track and field to them. Kyprianou also left open the possibility of playing football for Georgia.
Until the javelin incident, Godwin planned on making an attempt after the track season to schedule a meeting with defensive backs coach Charlton Warren. Godwin said he still might try to play football for Georgia while also running track.
That’s something Barnes would love to witness after having seen Godwin survive such a major incident last May.
“I’m still looking for him to do great things at UGA,” Barnes said. “I think he’s a phenomenal talent. I just wish I could still see him get out there on the football field.”