It has been quite the journey for Lansing High senior swimmer Maddie Walker.
To say it is one born out of an epic, romantic pilgrimage lined with fruit and fans blowing cool air as the adoring masses wave you on would be a bit disingenuous.
No, for Walker, it has been a grind and a toll on her body that has been laid bare by injury that has dampened some of her past seasons.
“I know Maddie can overcome this injury she suffered just before the start of her sophomore year,” Lansing head girls’ coach David Bresser said. “She was coming off a great freshman season and now was faced with a significant setback. She always kept a positive attitude around her teammates. She slowly worked her way back into the pool and worked to get back to her normal self.
“At the beginning of her junior year, she still wasn't 100 percent but was giving max effort every time she came to practice. By the end of the season she was able to get three individual automatic state qualifying times, runner-up in two individual events at the Kaw Valley League and swim on two KVL champion relay teams. I continue to be impressed with her tenacity ... there are numerous times where she could've thrown in the towel to prepare herself but always put the needs of the team above herself.”
Now an elder on a strong Lions’ swim squad, Walker is back for one more dance in the pool. She hopes to make it the best one yet and gain some personal retribution for all of her pain and suffering.
“Sophomore year, I swam with a tear in my shoulder,” Walker said. “I had surgery in the summer of 2016 and was rehabbing last year. I got to the point where I was almost fully recovered for my junior year.
“It was hard mentally swimming before my surgery, but at the same time, it was good to know I was going to be healed. Rehabbing was definitely a struggle. I had some setbacks, but I think it made me a stronger athlete overall. I persevered through a lot of the pain and I’ve come back and I am 100 percent now. I am really excited for next season.”
Swimming while injured is no easy task despite some of the relative weightlessness. The reality is, a swimmer needs her shoulders and if one isn’t cooperating, it can become a serious trial.
“It was a sharp pain in my shoulder, constantly there,” Walker said. “When I am racing, I just put it out of my mind and didn’t let it affect me too much. It hurt a lot the next day and hurt more in practice. During meets I was able to push through it.”
Swimming with the injury wouldn’t do any more damage on top of what had already occurred, but Walker avoided the butterfly for obvious reasons and still competed in the other three disciplines – backstroke, freestyle and breaststroke.
“Coming back from my surgery, I started with breaststroke since it doesn’t take a lot of motion, then I moved to freestyle and backstroke,” Walker said. “I am honestly, still trying to work back into butterfly. That’s not 100 percent for me. I would love to get back into butterfly and do some IM events, especially since I haven’t done it in a while. But it takes time and I don’t want to push it.”
Walker’s determination was not clouded by worry that she would be letting her team down by not swimming. Instead, she found herself relying on her teammates’ support.
“They were all so supportive and we have a really solid team,” Walker said. “No, I didn’t feel the pressure to come back. We have other great swimmers and it’s a team effort and we all have to swim well together.”
She won’t fib though. The injury has led her to want her final season to be a memorable one.
“I think I am more driven now because I have had all that time where I haven’t been 100 percent and now I really want to get in the pool and get in the weight room to be as strong as I can,” Walker said. “I want to be better and be the fastest swimmer I can be.”
To aid in her recovery, she also has a few things to do to help pass time and decompress.
“My sports are my life. I also ride horses,” Walker said. “I also shoot and I run. So if I am not swimming, I am training for something else. I also hang out with my friends. I definitely watch Netflix. ‘Seinfeld’ is my guilty pleasure. It’s strange for a 17-year-old, but when I am feeling down, I watch ‘Seinfeld.’ I just finished ‘The Keepers.’ That was really good. I like real murder crime shows. I like documentaries.”