Maier Overcomes Injury To Lead Bears

By Nicole Ginley-Hidinger

In February, Cal cross country runner Deborah Maier was on crutches because of a stress fracture in her sacrum.  She was facing the fact that she would definitely be out for the indoor track season, probably the outdoor season, and it was possible she would not even run cross country in the fall.

"Obviously [I was in] shock," Maier says. "It was a combination of shock and despair."

After five or six weeks completely off, Maier began the long road to recovery, which started with the stationary bike.

"I usually biked for about ninety minutes a day," she explains. "The bike is not that much fun. I had to keep in mind what this is for."

Maier spent hours on the bike, listening to techno and keeping her endurance up. There were a few minor setbacks but, finally in June she was able to start training again. When the question came up about Deborah running cross country in the fall she decided to go for it. "Our team was looking strong, so I wanted to be a part of that," she says.
    
The decision paid off. At the Roy Griak invitational in September of this year, Maier not only placed first individually, but also led her team to a win.

"Any injury has two components," head coach Tony Sandoval explains. "[There is] a physical aspect and an emotional aspect. Sometimes when you heal up you are a better athlete than you were before."

Now, the team is ranked in the top ten nationally with several big meets coming up within the next couple of weeks. However, Maier is focused on the bigger picture.

"(The NCAA Championship) is what everything is pointed to this year," Maier says. "I want to get the team qualified for NCAAs."

To qualify as a team, Cal will have to place in top two at the regional meet later this season. This means beating several Pac-12 teams.

"The Pac-12 teams are probably our biggest rivals," Maier says. "There is a historical rivalry between Stanford and Cal, and Oregon always has a great running program."
    
When the regional meet comes around, the Cal team will go to the grocery store the night before and get enough fifty-cent tattoos for all seven runners. Then, the morning of the race they will put them on before they reach the start line. They are in this as a team and Sandoval knows that the team will have to work together to qualify.
    
"The goals for Deborah are not so much individual, but team wide," Sandoval explains. "[She has to] provide leadership to get to nationals."

Sandoval trusts Maier as a leader, and she was named team captain this year. "I think she embodies her commitment to excellence," Sandoval states.

Maier is majoring in political science with an emphasis in international relations as well as a minor in public policy. When deciding what college to attend, she was looking for an institution that had both excellent academics and athletics.
    
Maier is the fifth person in her family to attend Cal. But she didn't want to feel like she was following in her sibling's footsteps.

"I was kind of trying not to like it," Maier says. "I really clicked with the team."
    
This is Deborah's last season of cross country, but she has two more seasons of indoor and outdoor track since she redshirted when she was out with her injury.
    
Maier is looking forward to track, even though she loves cross country.

"I feel like I always say I like cross country better when it's cross country season and track better when it's track season," Maier says. "I like the team atmosphere better in cross country."
    
Maier has always found the team aspect of cross country an important part. "Having a team there every day at practice makes you want to work hard," she says.

The Cal team races at Wisconsin at the Badger Invitiational on Friday. This is their first opportunity to race against other highly ranked teams.

"It's awesome to be up there in the rankings," Maier says. "We're trying not to take things too seriously."

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