Walker the runner

Scott County High School senior Tyler Walker presents many of the medals he has won since picking up the sport of cross country running in seventh grade.

The county's most decorated male runner of recent vintage, Tyler Walker easily could have followed the athletic path that captivated most other boys born and raised in Georgetown.

In fact, Walker did follow his friends to sports involving the traditional stick and/or ball. Then came the inevitable crossroads, where the games grew more serious and the fight for playing time became less enticing.

He didn't have to run far to find someone who'd been at that intersection. Tyler's father, Todd, was an exceptional cross country and track and field distance runner while growing up in Ohio.

“I always played baseball and basketball when I was little. Then I just kind of grew out of baseball,” Walker recalled. “My dad was like, 'Hey, maybe you need to start thinking about running.' He always had me run a couple laps around the driveway. Then he was like, 'You need to try cross country this fall.' So I did that, and I ended up loving it. That was in seventh grade.”

As a result, Scott County High School's running record book will never be the same. Walker shattered the best 5-kilometer time in Cardinal lore this autumn with his fastest finish of 15 minutes, 24 seconds.

After losing his junior track season to the COVID-19 pandemic, Walker never really knew until every Friday in September or October if or where he'd be running on Saturday. He wound up with a relatively full card of races, finishing first or second in all but one of them.

“It was just kind of loading up on go, being able to change scenarios, whether or not we were going to be able to race each week,” Walker said. “With our county being in the red zone some of the time, we couldn't compete in some races. So that was definitely interesting in training. But I think I ran six or seven. I'm just thankful for the opportunity to race.”

Walker proclaimed his final high school XC race, Saturday's KHSAA Class 3A championship in Bourbon County, the toughest of his career for many reasons.

With the field divided into multiple waves to help socially distance the field of 282, Walker ran stride for stride with Madison Central’s Brady Masters for much of the showcase before settling for fifth overall with a time of 16:05.40. It sealed Walker's spot on the Kentucky High School Cross Country Coaches' Association all-state team.

“I stayed with him for the first mile and a half,” Walker recalled. “Then we hit a big hill, and he just kind of said 'see ya' and took off. He ended up second. A guy from the second wave (Jackson Watts of Madisonville-North Hopkins) won the race.”

Masters, a junior, was the only underclassman in the top seven. Walker and Watts were part of a stellar senior group — including Nolan Hester of St. Xavier, Ryan O'Dea of Trinity, Will Cahill of Lafayette and Chase Atkins of Hopkinsville — that pushed one another throughout high school.

“I always dreamed about being No. 1 in the state of Kentucky,” Walker said. “It is what it is. This is probably one of the best senior classes in a long time.”

That Class of 2021 camaraderie helped fill a void for Walker, who has been the only male runner at SCHS since Great Crossing High School opened at the start of his junior season.

GC boys' earned their first-ever team trip to state this fall. Walker maintains those friendships, but he rarely found himself at the same venue as the Warhawks.

“It was very strange. I missed having everybody,” Walker said of his two seasons flying solo as a Cardinal. “I was glad we had a girls' team, because you could actually talk to people, so that was OK.”

Scott County coach Bryce Robinson and Todd Walker served as Tyler's guidance. Their encouragement, he said, was a welcome interruption on race day.

But overall, he finds the solitude of being a distance runner a major part of its appeal.

“I try to listen for my dad and the coaches. Other than that, it's just me and my footsteps,” Walker said. “(Training and competing) gives you time to be with yourself. If you have a rough day, you can go out for a run and clear your head, and you feel good after.”

In addition to his personal and school records, Walker spent his senior season chasing another mark, one accompanied by the most bragging rights. He beat his dad's best high school time by two seconds.

“He's still got it in track right now, so I've got a little work to do,” the younger Walker said.

Aside from being one of the fastest person in his neighborhood on two legs, Walker also enjoys a connection with those fast, sleek creatures on four hooves that share a home in the Bluegrass.

He hopes to follow the footsteps of his mom, Alison, into the world of equine management.

“That's the first thing I did,” Walker said. “I sat on my first horse when I was six weeks old, It's in my blood. My mom's the racing end of it. I raise them and train them to show. After I get done running, I plan to focus on that and hopefully start my own stable.”

If community health cooperates, Walker wants to put a proper stamp on his high school career. A stress fracture his sophomore year prevented him from fully participating in SC's region championship and second-place finish at state track and field.

COVID limited his junior track campaign to only a few indoor, winter showcases.

College also awaits, although Walker won't tip his hand as to where.

“Really just staying open with everything,” he said. “Whoever gives me the best opportunity to run and study business, so that way I can stay with the horses.”

Fast company seems like a natural fit. 

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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