Elija Godwin

Georgia's Elija Godwin during the Torrin Lawrence Memorial track meet in Athens, Georgia, on April 30, 2021. (Jack Casey/UGA Athletics)

While at a practice in spring 2019, then-freshman Elija Godwin backed into a stationary javelin while doing a backward sprint. The javelin pierced his back, and he was immediately taken to the hospital for surgery.

Godwin’s career nearly came to an end.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” Godwin said. “In the moment, you don’t even know what the future holds [or] if you’ll even make it out of this situation at all.”

Two years later, not only has Godwin fully recovered from the injury, but he’s become one of the fastest 400-meter runners in the country. During the 2021 indoor season, he set both collegiate and school records in both the men’s 400 and 4-x-400, including a relay leg time of 44.21 seconds at the NCAA Indoor Championships, the fastest indoor time in collegiate history.

As a freshman, Godwin came into Georgia as a highly-touted sprinter from Covington, Georgia. In high school, he set impressive times, clocking in at 45.83 seconds in the 400. His 4-x-400 meter relay team also received a silver medal at the 2018 World Junior Championships.

Following his devastating injury in 2019, Godwin said he took a lot of time for mental healing before even beginning to focus on track again.

“After I got out of the hospital, I kind of just spent a lot of time with family,” Godwin said. “[I was] just appreciating the fact that didn’t end how I thought it could have.”

As far as the physical aspect goes, Godwin said his injury had no impact on his sprinting ability. Georgia associate athletic trainer Stacey Kisil seconded this notion, saying he did very well with listening to what the trainers and doctors told him to do.

“It was mostly just making sure he can fully get back into running form without having any complications from the surgery,” Kisil said.

In 2020, Godwin’s season was cut short once again as a result of COVID-19. This season is the first where he’s able to show what he is truly capable of, as his athleticism and motivation from the injury have elevated him to the sprinter that he is today.

“It made him more hungry,” said head coach Petros Kyprianou. “A lot hungrier in competing and being more appreciative.”

Coming out of this situation, Godwin pledged to himself that he was going to put his all into everything he does and fully commit to every goal he wanted to achieve.

“I could be able to look at my life and be like ‘I went for it, 100%,’” Godwin said. “That’s kind of the motivation it gave me. Like that whatever I’m doing, I’ll put my all into it.”

Godwin’s currently ranked 12th in the nation in both the 200-meter at 20.32 seconds and the 400-meter with a time of 45.34 seconds. This is marginally shy of the Olympic qualifying time of 45.20 seconds.

With the SEC and NCAA outdoor championships and the Olympic Trials all approaching, Godwin has quite a few goals he wants to accomplish for himself and the team.

Unsurprisingly, Godwin said he wants the team to go out and win a national championship. As far as personal goals, he said that all he wants to do is just be the best version of himself.

But rather than keeping this story about him, Godwin hopes its message can influence others.

“I just look at it as a testimony almost,” Godwin said. “[To] use it as a story to inspire other people to work through any adversities.”