Walker finds his place as Packers swimming leader
Alex Walker tried every sport as a kid. He remembers running away from the ball during a youth football game, so maybe sports with any ball weren't for him. He still hears about the time he tried youth wrestling and ran away from his opponent. Maybe wrestling wasn't for him either.
Then Walker tried swimming in fifth grade. He fit right in.
Walker is now a standout for the West Fargo swimming and diving team in multiple ways. He stands as an intimidating force at the starting blocks at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. His best times in seven events stand in the top 20 in North Dakota.
Walker is also the lone senior for the Packers this year.
In a season where the Packers have new head coaches for the first time in decades and are swimming in a new facility, Walker gives the Packers a familiar face and stability. Walker said he is lonely sometimes—he convinced other seniors to try out for the team but they didn't last the whole season—but he's focused on helping his young teammates along.
Walker said he's just trying to help the younger swimmers reach their goals like seniors before him. Walker said he's not afraid to call his teammates out during practice if they aren't working.
"I like holding people accountable during practice so we can improve," Walker said. "Every once in a while if somebody is slacking I'll give them a little kick in the butt and tell them to get going."
Packers co-head coach Barb Fisher said Walker does what is asked of him. During practices, the Packers coaches write training assignments on the board for the team to individually complete. Then, Fisher said, it's up to the athletes to get the most out of their practice time.
Walker, Fisher said, undoubtedly completes his training assignments with effort, and it's now showing in his better times at meets.
"He's a leader as soon as he steps foot in the door," Fisher said. "He just does the right thing. If he says he's going to do it, he's going to do it."
Walker is 14th in the state in the 200-yard individual medley in 2 minutes, 14.09 seconds, 17th in the 200 freestyle at 1:58.75, 18th in the 100 backstroke in 1:00.66, 20th in the 500 freestyle in 5:28.98 and 21st in the 100 breaststroke in 1:09.31. He's also on the Packers 200 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay teams that both rank ninth in the state at 1:38.02 and 1:49.44, respectively.
Although Walker has prefered to swim in the 200 and 500 freestyles at the state meet, Walker is considering swimming the 200 IM to place as high as he can in his final state meet.
"I believe no matter what you're doing, hard work will always pay off," Walker said. "You can always work harder. There's something you can do to put yourself over the top and get there."
The consistency in Walker's training, Fisher said, has allowed him to improve this season. Fisher said Walker sets the tone for the younger swimmers, engages with them and will lead them in warmups.
"He's a nice presence in the block," Fisher said. "He works hard and he's competitive and wants to compete. I don't even worry about that. I don't worry he's not going to give everything he has or be competitive. That's all you can ask for."
Freshman Max Wohl wondered if he would be any good at varsity swimming three years ago. But Wohl said Walker showed him the ropes in his first years of varsity swimming. Being pushed by Walker, Wohl qualified for state as a seventh grader.
"He's one of the best characters on the team," Wohl said. "He really helped me transition."
Walker remembers his own first trip to the state meet. He was so excited he stayed up until 2 a.m. the night before. Now as the senior, he might be the one telling his teammates to get some sleep the night before state.
After his final state meet, Walker said he doesn't know where he'll go to college. He may join the National Guard, but he's holding out for any sort of college scholarship.
But until then, Walker wants to make an impression on the Packers program. Walker looks up at the school record boards now at Hulbert Aquatic Center. He wants his name up there and is willing to work for it.
"I think if I push a little harder, I think I could get close to it and beat it by state," Walker said. "That would be big to me, to know that I have a legacy."