By REID TUCKER
When Erin Walker wakes up in the morning, the first thing she does is look to make sure her gold medal is still hanging beside the bed.
The 16-year-old Paxton sophomore is the best 1A high school discus thrower in Florida and the sixth-best in the country. She’s never been beaten in a single track meet in two years of competition. Still, every morning she checks the wall by her bed for sight of the medal, reassuring herself that it’s not a dream, that on July 29 she’ll compete against the best high school athletes in the country at the Junior Olympics in Detroit.
“Sometimes, I wake up and I just don’t believe it’s real,” Walker said. “I have to tell myself, ‘The medal is real. I really did that. It really happened.’”
Despite her successes with the discus, Walker said it was far from her first choice of track and field events. She wanted to be a high-jumper, but after struggling with that event her coach, Herbert Haddock, eventually talked her into giving discus a try. As she began training for her first track meet as a discus thrower, Walker said she was less than confident in her abilities, but all that changed as the victories started coming one after another.
“When I first started, I wasn’t good at it,” Walker said. “When I started winning tournaments, it was more fun and it got easier. I finally realized I could do it.”
Walker’s performance at the state tournament came as no surprise Haddock, who introduced the track and field program when he came to Paxton High School 16 years ago. Haddock said that excellence in track and field events has become something of a tradition at PHS, with several of the school’s students occupying state top-10 lists over the years. Nevertheless, Haddock said Walker is the most talented discus thrower he’s ever worked with, but said it’s her dedication to training, even more than her natural abilities, that have driven her to success.
“Obviously she has talent,” Haddock said. “It’s easy to see that she has a desire for success, but nothing replaces work and effort. Ability gives you a vehicle but you still have to set a goal and put forth the effort to reach it. That’s something she’s always done very well.”
As Haddock said, dedication to training has never been a problem for Walker. She runs daily, trains with weights two to three days a week and throws the discus at least 100 times a day. Also, like many of Paxton’s athletes, Walker plays more than one sport, basketball in this case. She said the best thing about playing basketball and participating in track and field events is that happen at opposite times of the year, keeping her in competition shape year-round, as training for one event often helps out in the other, but the hardest part to the discus throw is mastering the complicated technique involved.
“Doing a post move on the [basketball] court is the same move as spinning in the circle, but in order to be good with the discus, there are at least 70 different things you have remember,” Walker said, explaining how she and a fellow discus thrower counted out the individual components of good technique. “You have to account for speed, sit down, keep your elbow low, don’t look at the ground, et cetera. They’re never-ending [steps], but very necessary. It can still make you go a little crazy if you think about it too much.”
Technique hasn’t presented too much of a problem for Walker though, as her state tournament-winning distance of 128 feet, six inches isn’t even her personal best throw, which she got at her first track meet of this year as a sophomore. For her, the mark of 129 feet, 2 inches is “10 inches from the best,” and it’s those 10 inches that push her to train harder. Nevertheless, she doesn’t concern herself overmuch with her distances (she couldn’t remember her state-winning mark), she concerns herself with winning.
“I do better in competition,” Walker said. “I don’t get that nervous. I find that it’s easier to throw when someone is watching me. On track days, I zone out. I get quiet, completely the opposite of my usual personality. I’m self-admittedly loud most of the time.”
Walker said she never could’ve progressed as far as she has in her sporting endeavors if she didn’t have the support of a very tight-knit community. “Moose,” as Walker is called by her classmates, has become something of a local celebrity, even signing a few autographs on occasion. Originally from Maine, Walker’s attended school in Paxton for five years, the longest time she’s spent in one place, and she feels like the school and community have embraced her as one of their own and she’ll gladly accept the limelight.
“Paxton is more like a family than a school sometimes,” Walker said. “You go to class like anywhere else, but people care about you here. Paxton is a small place. We aren’t used to having anything big. I’m just going one track meet at a time, and that’s all this is, another track meet.”
Outside sports, Walker is an avid reader and enjoys playing the upright bass in the Northwest Florida Youth Symphony Orchestra, as well as the piano and clarinet. She has plans to attend Boston College, as she’d be able to play basketball as well as continue to participate in track events, where she plans to get a degree in either orthodontics or physical sports therapy. She’s hinging her hopes for a scholarship on her performance at Detroit, but nevertheless isn’t worried about the event, saying she’ll do her best like she always has, and that drive had a hand in making her the person she is today.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll do well personally [at the Junior Olympics],” Walker said. “I’d like to win, but I’ve got to do my best. That’s all I really can do. I don’t want to settle for anything less than the best in anything I do. I never even think about winning. I just throw it. Everything else sorts itself out.”