ATHENS — When the javelin first penetrated his back, just underneath his left shoulder blade, Elija Godwin didn’t think much of it.
“Honestly, I never really felt pain,” the Georgia freshman sprinter said. “My initial thought was, ‘ah, man, that got me, I shouldn’t have been late to practice,’ stuff like that. But then I knew it was bad because of the blood I was spitting out of my mouth. That’s when I realized the seriousness of the situation.”
It was indeed serious. Doctors who surgically removed the back end of the javelin from Godwin’s torso say the thin metal pole narrowly missed Godwin’s heart and several major arteries. As it was, Godwin suffered a “5- to 6-inch deep” puncture wound that entered and collapsed his left lung. He’s expected to make a full recovery and run track again.
Godwin remains hospitalized in Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital, where he has been since he was rushed there by ambulance Tuesday with a large piece of the javelin still embedded in his back. But he was in good spirits and “feeling blessed” when he spoke to DawgNation early Thursday afternoon.
“I don’t want sympathy or anybody to feel bad or anything like that,” said Godwin, who declined having a picture taken in his hospital room. “I want people to know I’m better and I’m going to be OK.”
Especially relieved by that news is Ginger Luby, Godwin’s mother. She was working her job as an administrator in a doctor’s office in Conyers when she received a call from one of Georgia’s coaches while Godwin was still laying in the grass infield at Spec Towns Track spilling blood moments after the accident.
“I really didn’t know a lot, just that he was hurt but they didn’t know how bad,” Luby said. “I was about an hours drive away, so my whole goal was just to get to him before surgery and start praying.”
She did. The pole was still in Godwin’s back when Luby arrived at the emergency room. First-responders and UGA trainers decided to grind off the most of javelin but keep the rest of object in Godwin’s body because the blood loss already was so severe.
“The blood was the worst part of the whole thing,” Godwin said. “It was like I was painting the grass red. That’s what it seemed like. It was coming out in abundance and it seemed like it was everywhere. I thought I was going to check out.”
As it turned out, Godwin never lost consciousness. Eventually he was able to sit up with the javelin still piercing him and a host of trainers and fellow student-athletes surrounding him and telling him he was going to be all right.
“The biggest thing I was worrying about was moving my legs, so I kept moving my toes and legs, just making sure they worked,” said Godwin, a premier 400-meter runner. “I knew I was losing a lot of blood and thought I might pass out. But the longer I stayed up and closer the ambulance got, the calmer I became. It was more of a mental thing.”
Godwin said the only time he lost consciousness was when he underwent anesthesia for surgery. It wasn’t until he awoke that he realized how close he’d come to suffering an irreversible tragedy.
“They did a good job of not letting me know that part,” Godwin said with a laugh as he sat up in a chair in his hospital room.
As for the circumstances of the accident, Godwin said he arrived late to a practice that was especially crowded and busy because of this weekend’s SEC Championship meet in Fayetteville, Ark. As part of his normal routine, Godwin and the other sprinters warm up by doing running drills and stretches. One of those is to sprint backward in quick bursts.
Sometimes they do it on the track, sometimes on the infield. Because the track was crowded and he was late, Godwin said he ended up doing his warm-up routine on the infield grass along with women’s sprinter Micaiah Ransby. He said that they were running backward and both avoided “a bunch of poles” in the ground before he backed into one.
“There was one off by itself and, you know, they’re hard to see,” Godwin said. “I never saw it until it was in me.”
Godwin shouted and fell forward to the ground with what was actually the back end of the javelin. Both ends of the 8-foot-long spears are sharp. But the front end is affixed with a weighted, sharp metal head.
The spears are usually put away in a rack after use, “but I think they must’ve just gotten through throwing,” Godwin said.
Nevertheless, Godwin said he’s “not mad at anybody.” He did not feel anyone was being negligent. He even joked about not knowing whose javelin he ran into or who left it there.
“Whoever it belonged to it ain’t theirs anymore,” Godwin cracked. “It’s in pieces now.”
Unfortunately, he said, he didn’t think to ask for the part they ended up taking out of his back.
Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Georgia “will conduct a full review of policies and procedures when we return from the SEC Championships.”
Unfortunately, Godwin now won’t be making that trip.
“I was looking forward to putting up some numbers,” said Godwin, who was third in the 400m at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships last year and has run 45.83 this season. “I guess God had different plans. But when you’re laying on the ground coughing up blood, all I’m thinking is ‘I want to live.'”
And now, Godwin intends to make the best of the experience.
“For it to happen, it happened in the best way possible, you know?” Godwin said. “I heard it was close to my heart; I heard it was close to a main artery. But it didn’t hit it. So, it’s like a testimony for me now. If somebody asks, I won’t have a problem talking about it. I’m just glad I’m able to.”