Maia Caldwell-Booker nearly quit running track in the middle of her junior season.
The senior at West Hall admitted that she was close to calling it quits in the middle of the spring season due to a nagging hamstring injury that didn’t seem like it was going to get any better by the end of the season.
Then she had several talks with teacher Christopher Turpin, who encouraged her to stick with track.
“I got really down. I told Turpin, ‘You know what, I am just going to stop running, and I am just going to stop this year, give up the season, because it is looking like my hamstring isn’t going to get better,’” Caldwell-Booker explained.
“But he was the one that kept me going, with the pep talks, scriptures and the motivation. That is who kept me going. He was a really big part of my track.”
Good thing Caldwell-Booker listened to the motivational talks and stuck with track. She in fact did recover from her hamstring injury, coming all the way back to win the 100-meter dash at the regional, sectional and state meets.
She also finished third in Long Jump at the Class AAA state championship meet, and helped West Hall finished fourth in the 4X-100 relay.
For her dominating efforts, Caldwell-Booker has been named this year’s All-Area Girls Track Athlete of the Year.
“I personally give all the credit to God. I am very strong in my faith and I know he has put me where I can get this honor,” she said. “Without him, the talent that I have would be useless. So, I give all honor to him.”
Winning the state championship in the 100-meter dash, finishing in 11.95 seconds, was a highlight moment of Caldwell-Booker’s season, but it wasn’t the best moment in her eyes. That came in an early-season meet at Flowery Branch, which pitted her in the same 100-meter finals race against her toughest competition, Monroe Area senior Javianne Oliver.
Oliver was the reigning Class AAA state champion in the 100-meter, narrowly edging Caldwell-Booker in the 2012 state final. That moment of defeat, that moment of finishing second and coming so close to being a state champion, stuck with Caldwell-Booker throughout her offseason training. It also motivated her coming into her junior season.
So it was fitting that Caldwell-Booker only got one chance of redemption against Oliver, whose school moved out of Class AAA when the Georgia High School Association reclassified prior to the 2013-14 seasons.
“I had worked to get faster, because I didn’t know they were going to do a big shift in the schools, like some of them moving up (into different classifications),” Caldwell-Booker said. “I was actually preparing myself to run against Javianne Oliver.”
One that day at Flowery Branch, Caldwell-Booker proved how much faster she had gotten through all her training, posting a personal-best time of 11.65 seconds. The best part, she had beaten Oliver.
“That day was amazing. It was my first day back on the track from a previous injury. That was my first track meet back, it was a really big invitational,” Caldwell-Booker recalled. “My coaches were like, ‘This is your one and only chance to come out and prove that you could have beaten her last year.’
“I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of letting her beat me twice, so that was a very big motivation going out there. I was more nervous for that race than I was my state race. So when I crossed the finish line, I saw her finish and I thought she had beaten me. I was halfway up the steps before my coach told me I had beaten her.”
That moment of satisfaction from the Flowery Branch meet quickly went away, though. She strained her hamstring a few weeks later, resulting in her nearly quitting. But, the talks with Turpin kept her in the sport and on the road to recovery.
That road to a complete recovery included Caldwell-Booker running just fast enough in certain races to beat her competition competition. That included in the Region 7 championship meet, which she won, despite running at just “75 percent.”
Eventually, she was able to get back on the track completely healthy, winning at sectionals and earning her spot back in the state championship finals. This time, she wasn’t going to finish second. Not again.
“I just worked hard because I knew I couldn’t go three years in a row with a second,” she said. “I didn’t want another consecutive second place finish. That was the motivation in itself.”
Since winning the state championship in the 100-meter, Caldwell-Booker has been busy on the track. She competed with an AAU track team out of Gainesville, earning a spot in the USA Track and Field national meet despite aggravating her hamstring during the qualifier meet.
“I did it all the way up through the national qualifying meet. But during that meet, my hamstring re-strained on me and the doctor gave me six weeks off. I qualified for nationals, but with the injury I decided not to go.”
Once school starts back at West Hall, Caldwell-Booker says she will work out two to three times a week in the fall before basketball season begins. Then she’ll ready for her final season on the track in the spring, chasing back-to-back state championships in the 100-meter dash and maybe even a state championship in the 200-meter.
Past next spring, the future is unknown for Caldwell-Booker, although she says she has full intention of running track in college. She is already receiving letters of interest from Iowa, Penn, and North Carolina, the same school that signed Oliver, her biggest rival in high school.