A Multi-Talented Star: Cal's Maier Among Nation's Best
After a breakout season in 2009, California junior Deborah Maier has established herself as an elite cross country and distance runner for the Golden Bears. At the same time, Maier is a true student-athlete, remaining dedicated to her academic work as she pursues a future in international relations.
As a sophomore last year, the Cameron Park, Calif., native became the first Cal woman to earn first-team All-Pac-10 honors after finishing sixth at the 2009 Pac-10 Cross Country Championships. It was the best showing for a Cal individual since 1997. Maier's performace helped the Bears take fifth overall, the squad's highest showing in 21 years.
After racking up top-20 finishes in all of her races last year, including the NCAA Regional meet, Maier has emerged as the Bears' top runner. She looks to build on that success as the Cal women gear up for the Pac-10 Championships on Saturday, Oct. 30 at Jefferson Park Golf Course in Seattle.
"Being relatively new to running, last year really provided me with beneficial experience and allowed me to learn a lot about racing and training," said Maier, who began running competitively her junior year of high school. "Having the experiences from last year under my belt definitely gives me confidence, but at the same has shown me there is still a lot of room for improvement."
Maier says her rise to the front of the pack is a result of her training. "I have a pretty unusual running form, which has resulted in three stress fractures," she said. "However, by doing the little things such as strength and core work as well as following a plan of lower mileage supplemented by cross training, I've been able to get in some consistent training. I think this is the factor that has really seemed to help me propel to the next level."
The Bears are currently focused on being sharp and fresh as they approach the league meet. Cal hopes to improve on its fifth-place finish from last year and then move onto the NCAA West Region meet with a berth in the NCAA Championship as the team's biggest goal.
"We haven't had a women's team qualify for the meet since 1988, so I think it's time we got on that," Maier said. "We definitely have the talent to accomplish that, but it's going to require everyone staying healthy and committed."
Just as Maier has remained committed to her training, she is also devoted to excelling in the classroom. A political science major with an emphasis in international relations, Maier was named Honorable Mention Pac-10 All-Academic as well as USTFCCCA All-Academic last season. In May, she received the Golden Bear Award for earning the highest GPA on the cross country team with a 3.808.
Maier's academic achievements can be attributed to the values that her parents, Paul and Donna, engrained in their children from a young age.
"The importance of academics has always been something that my parents stressed," said Maier. "From an early age, they spent time reading to me. As I got older, I saw that my siblings were able to be successful in their professions of choice and had many opportunities because they worked hard in school."
As one of five Maier children to attend Cal, Deborah grew up as a Bears fan. Her older brother, Chris, was also a member of the cross country and track and field teams in the 1990s. However, when it came time to look at colleges, Maier wanted to make her own opinions about Cal and not be influenced by her siblings' college choices.
In the end, Cal proved to be the right fit.
"My final decision was based on the excellent combination of athletics and academics offered at Cal, as well as how comfortable I felt with the team," Maier said. "As my coach [Tony Sandoval] says, 'You get it all.'"
Since arriving at Cal, Maier became interested in studying international relations and aspires to work in international aid.
"I definitely want to live a purpose-filled life," said Maier, "I feel like this is an arena I can really make a difference in."
Maier is most interested in Eastern Africa.
"I think this is one of the neediest areas in the world," she said. "The poor conditions people face due to a lack of governmental and economic infrastructure is an issue that increasingly needs to be addressed."
Maier is looking forward to completing an internship next summer to learn more about international aid and her possible future in the field.
In the meantime, Maier enjoys running and studying at an elite level in Berkeley. Being disciplined in both areas has allowed her to achieve balance and so much success.
"When I get home from practice, I'm physically tired so I can mentally focus on schoolwork," Maier said. "Just knowing that I don't have time to procrastinate makes me work more efficiently. Knowing that I need to get enough rest to run well definitely forces me to stay on top of my school work."
Maier continues to pace the Cal women in every race she enters for the second year in a row. She took runner-up honors at the Stanford Invitational on Sept. 25, finishing just four seconds behind winner Kathy Kroeger of Stanford, and led the Bears to a second-place team finish. At the Pre-NCAA Invitational on Oct. 16, Maier improved on a 13th-place finish a year ago to take third among a competitive field. Cal finished eighth ahead of three nationally ranked teams in Terre Haute, Ind.
Look for Maier to continue to show why she's an elite runner as the Bears gear up for the Pac-10 Championships on Oct. 30 in Seattle.
Photo by GoldenBearSports.com