Feature by Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, January 3. NOT too many swimmers have the opportunity to coach for the same team that they compete for. But for Rick Walker, coaching and swimming for the Sarasota YMCA Sharks Masters, one of the top Masters clubs in the nation, is an opportunity he benefits from every day.
"I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such a great group of swimmers and friends on the Sharks Masters," Walker said. "I really enjoy competing at meets with my teammates, most of whom I coach on a daily basis."
Walker, along with fellow coaches Bill Brenner and Laura Hamel, have been instrumental in helping build a successful Masters team. During the past few years, the Sharks have grown from just a handful of swimmers to more than 200. In August, the team took home its first USMS national team title, complementing the winning tradition of the Sarasota YMCA USA swimming team, which has won seven straight YMCA national titles and 11 since 1979.
"We have a great thing going at the Sarasota Y, with a beautiful facility and being able to train outside year around," Walker said. "The Sarasota Y coaches are all guys I have known for 20 or so years, and they are great to the Sharks Masters program. Lane space and time is never a problem. The Masters reciprocate by being very generous in supporting our youth Sharks program."
Walker is a dedicated coach and swimmer for the Sharks. He works hard, and so do his athletes. "Easy" is not a part of his training vocabulary.
"I feel like I train my swimmers fairly hard," he said. "Our workouts are tough on all levels, even for my fitness swimmers. When I first started Masters, I was trained by USA Swimming coaches who worked me hard; that has carried over to my coaching. My swimmers would be very disappointed if I gave them a cupcake workout."
Walker practices six days a week, and the training is clearly paying off. At the USMS Long Course Nationals in August, he won three events in the men's 60-64 age group, including the 200 free (2:20.01), 400 free (4:55.91) and 800 free (10:12.33). He also finished third in the 50 breast (36.28) and 100 breast (1:20.37) and fourth in the 200 breast (3:00.23).
"Everyone always wants to swim faster, but I was pleased with my swims in Auburn," he said. "My goal was to swim faster than 2010 Summer Nationals, which I did in some of my swims."
Walker plans to compete at the 2012 USMS spring and summer nationals, both of which will present an excellent opportunity for Walker and his ever-growing Sharks team to continue turning heads in the Masters swimming community.
Birthday: September 27, 1950
Residence: Sarasota, Florida
College: University of Mississippi
USMS Records: Men's 60-64 800m free (LC), 10:06.76; set 8/9/10
Favorite Pre-Meet Warm-up:
3 X 250 loosen
4 X 25 kick
4 X 50 swim-build each swim
4 X 25 swim-fast
4 X 50 warm down
Advice to Younger Swimmers: "My advice to younger swimmers would be to hang in there when they sometimes start to doubt their commitment. Swimming will bring great values to them that they probably cannot see today. I would also tell them to take a break after they retire then pick up Masters and enjoy a great lifestyle as they get older."