Walker siblings are fast company
Park City High School track head coach Jeff Wyant first sought out Ali Walker at this time last year, when she was an eighth grader watching her brother Erik become the Class 3A state champion in 100 meters as a junior.
"Some people had told us she was talented," Wyant said. "We knew she had some potential."
It was a safe bet. Erik is not only a track standout, but will attend Weber State University next season on a full scholarship to play wide receiver. Their older brother, Geoff, won a basketball scholarship to the University of Montana after all-state recognition as a Miner.
And their father, Jim, competed for the University of Utah’s now-defunct men’s track program prior to an eighty-year professional distance-running career representing the shoe company Converse.
The early returns on the youngest Walker, though, are off the charts.
"She’s probably the best athlete in the family," Erik said, without a hint of lip service.
Ali had never run until this season, her freshman year at PCHS, and underwent the second of two major knee surgeries last summer. But she decided to try out for Park City’s vaunted cross-country team and wound up taking ninth in the state.
She is also one of the top soccer players for her age in Utah, playing for the state’s Under-17 Olympic Development Team at just 15 – nearly two years younger than most of her teammates.
"On the soccer field, she’s not blazing fast, but she’s always one of the fastest," said Jim. "But she’s a heck of a little distance runner."
A calf injury will prevent Ali from competing individually at state finals this year, costing her a chance to qualify at this past week’s regionals in Price. She runs in the 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 events, so it’s a big loss for the Miners’ Class 3A title hopes – although she still might be able to run in the 1600-meter relay with the team.
"I would expect her to be in contention for state titles within a year or two," Wyant said.
It might come as a surprise to some – and it did to Ali herself – that distance is the specialty of Erik Walker’s little sister. In reality, Erik is the anomaly in the family’s genetic tree – built with the fast-twitch muscle that is antithetical to distance running.
"The two of them have a very different mindset," Wyant said. "Sprinting is one explosion, all about technique and power. Distance is about enduring a whole lot of pain."
Walker gained about 30 pounds in the last year to fill out his frame for football, which he will focus on at Weber in lieu of track during the spring season. The extra bulk has slowed him somewhat over the 100 meters, and he has not been able to repeat last year’s fastest time of 10.9, although inclement weather has also been a factor.
"To run 400 meters is physiologically a struggle for him," Jim said. "The weight room can be a detriment to a sprinter."
At ease, Wildcat fans, Walker’s short-distance burst has actually improved, and while his 100 time may not be as fast as last year’s, he’s ratcheted his 40-yard-dash time up to an electronically timed 4.36 (New Orleans’ Reggie Bush ran a 4.38 at the NFL Combine).
"He’s always been fast," Jim said. "The first time he ever touched a football in a competitive game, they kicked it off to him and he took it back for a touchdown."
The three Walker siblings are all close – perhaps separated by the ideal number of years – and attend each others’ events. Ali holds Erik’s blocks for him, while Erik will shout instructions to his sister from the trackside during races.
"It’s just been really fun to watch the two of them," Jim said. "This is the first time any of them has been able to do it together. And they both compete in so many events that the whole track meet, we’ve got a kid going."
They both put in hours in the classroom, too. Erik is a regular honor roll member and Ali hopes to attend a school like Stanford or Cal Berkeley, Jim said.
"They’ve been really easy," Jim said. "We just make sure they have snacks and drinks."
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