Years of hard work, training and dedication brought 10-year-old Brookings resident Abby Walker to the cusp of amateur swimming elite. Walker's performances in the 50-meter and 100-meter breaststroke earned her an invitation to the prestigious Junior Olympics held last weekend in Concord, CA.
Facing swimmers who train multiple times a day, and compete in meets every weekend, Walker proved she belongs in the pool racing with the best amateur swimmers in the region.
Walker finished on the medal stand with a time of 1:39.60 in the 100-meter breaststroke, taking home an eighth-place medal in the process.
"I was really happy about that," said Walker of her medal winning performance. "I felt really special and really strong."
Walker's mother Lana explains that during the preliminaries her daughter had to fight through as a lower seed to earn the respect of competitors and race officials.
"The outside lanes are slowest and Abby was seeded in lane 8, meaning they thought she wasn't much competition," Lana Walker said regarding Abby's preliminary heat. "Abby came out of the turn and pushed hard the last 10 to 15 meters and almost tied for first in her heat. Everyone took notice then."
Walker's 1:39.60 shattered her old personal record of 1:41.66 by more than two seconds.
It was an impressive performance from Walker who didn't perform as well earlier in the competition in her bread-and-butter event, the 50-meter breaststroke.
Having little time to warm up and without her teammates there to support her, Walker admitted she did not swim her best in the 50-meter event.
"It was not my best race at all. I didn't feel like I pushed my hardest," said a humble Walker, stating that not hearing her teammates support her on made a difference. "They are the ones I can hear cheering when I'm in the water and in my mind, it makes me swim faster."
Walker still managed to finish 12th out of 26 swimmers in the 50-meter race. Coupled with her eighth place finish out of 19 competitors in the 100-meter breaststroke, Walker is proud but still hungry for more.
"Now I know what (the Junior Olympics) look like and how it works. If I try harder I could do much better. I plan on working my butt off to get back there," she said.