North Texas Daily

Junior track athlete raises the standard in her third year

Junior track athlete raises the standard in her third year

Junior track athlete raises the standard in her third year
April 02
19:51 2020

Junior track athlete Haley Walker has worked incessantly for the past three years to become one of the more known track and field athletes as an indoor weight thrower and an outdoor thrower for North Texas. She ranks the second-best discus and hammer thrower throughout the school. In 2019, she tackled the previous school record for best weight thrower, recently going on to break her own record in 2020. Walker was continuing her quest to overcome the competition this spring season, attributing her success to coach Brendon Kelso and the women who make up her team.

“I knew coming back from last year I would be even better,” Walker said. “It was a confidence booster to come back and to be hitting these marks that are already better than this time last year. It just shows how much everything is coming together and it’s exciting.

Walker grew up in Lockney, located in West Texas. She began her throwing career in seventh grade at Lockney Middle School. When she reached high school, Walker was able to compete for Lockney High School at three state meets throwing disc and shot put. She was contacted by North Texas throwing coach Brendon Kelso during her senior year of high school and followed up with a school visit after some careful consideration.

“I loved UNT,” Walker said. “I loved the environment and everything about it. Of course, I loved the coach. I enjoyed throwing ever since I started and it was something I wanted to continue to do because I had a love for it … because of how successful I am. To see anybody from that town to make it out and go to a big city is exciting. Playing that sport in high school, taking it out and making it big is pretty awesome. That was what pushed me to wanna go to a big city and to continue on a quest for it.”

Walker’s family supported her to pursue her love for track and field at North Texas, knowing it would be beneficial for her to take her talent to college with her. Kelso saw the potential in her from early on, and encouraged her by describing ways he could build her talent and mold it into something that would make her a better athlete.

“I definitely saw the talent, talked to her coach, who filled me in on her attitude, her work ethic, seeing how she would stay late and taking extra throws trying to figure out how to get better and better,” Kelso said. “I got through that recommendation and had her down for a visit to talk face to face and get to know a little more about her. I knew she had the potential to be really good, that the talent was in there and we need to make some technique changes. She picked up a new event we got on campus with the hammer and the weight throw.”

The first struggle that Walker faced at the beginning of her journey towards success was the difference between the way high schools in Texas taught weight throwing. Because it is so different from the way universities compete, Walker struggled at first to get an idea of how her technique needed to change, with the help of her coach.

“It took a while,” Kelso said. “But even some of these other coaches thought, ‘Man, [Walker]’s gonna be good! She’s gonna be good!’ And then, finally, it kind of clicked. With the new event, getting her to believe that she could be good [was important] as well. It kind of took a random day, something happened right and it started going far and she was like, ‘I ​do​ like this!’ And with that, the expectations rose this year. We knew she could have some real, real big throws.”

The track and field teams typically practice around 4-5 hours each day of the week based on the individual athlete’s class schedules or extracurriculars. The pattern usually begins with two to two and a half hours of throwing either indoors or outdoors (depending on their events). After this, the team heads to the weight room, and proceeds to train their bodies for another hour and a half, then proceeds to go off for class. After all this practice the students are expected to make time to do their homework and relax. During the spring is when practices get more intense and the athletes typically attend meets the entire weekend depending on the location.

“It’s time and making a sacrifice for this sport. In the fall (time) is there and I have more time to do things on the weekends, but during the season we have track meets every single weekend. It’s very repetitive.” Walker said. “There’s not much time during the semester, but it’s worth it.

One of Walker’s teammates, junior Jelaisa Shaffer, tends to lean on Walker, with the two supporting and encouraging each other to push harder in their practices and meets. They are both from West Texas, throwers for discus and shot put. Prior to becoming members of the same team, the pair had met their senior year of high school when they competed against each other at a track and field meet, the WC Invitational.

“I always thought she was an ​amazing​ athlete. [At the meet, Walker] was throwing a nice, easy 125,130. She ended up getting second at that meet, for no reason. The girl who beat her had an amazing [personal record] out of nowhere. They gave it to the girl who got fourth, and I got third because I still got bronze. But once I found out, I was hurt by it. I didn’t even know Haley at the time, but she beat this girl. I saw [her] beat this girl. I was going to war for her and I didn’t even know her yet.”

Shaffer believed that the girl who was given second place won Walker’s rightful prize because she attended the high school that hosted the invitational. After this moment, the pair were reunited at UNT, recognizing they had competed together.

“Being from more up north, we bring that back with us. We bring that with each other. It’s almost like she’s always been a part of my family even though I just met her,” Shaffer said. “She came in beating the whole game most part of freshman year. Her work ethic is so strong, she pushes me, I push her. We go back and forth all the time. And discus … that’s her specialty.”

Walker is commonly known to assist her teammates and give them friendly pointers that encourage them to feel more comfortable. Walker knows clearly what her goals are and puts her mind to it with ease. Shaffer attributes Walker’s greatest strength as her tendency to get anxious before a meet.

“Her getting nervous helps her to do better,” Shaffer said. “When you know she’s nervous, it’s gonna be a good day.”

Kelso mentioned he tries to push his athletes by setting up extensive training plans at the beginning of the year, pushing them to be in the best situation to succeed. He collaborates with his athletes by setting up weightlifting and training plans and uses a technical model to do everything he can to be able to assist them in reaching their full potential.

“I want to do everything I can for Haley or for anyone to be able to reach their full potential and not leave here and graduate, saying, ‘Man if my coach only could’ve done this I think I could’ve…’” Kelso said. “My responsibility is to get the most out of the athletes that I can in the four or five years I have them. I tell them all the time, “That’s the first time, the next one is gonna be bigger. I want them to dream big and to believe that even bigger and better throws can happen.”

Some of her most commonly described traits by her coach are that she is a gifted athlete, typically upbeat and a hard worker. Coach Kelso has been straightforward with her from the beginning, hoping that this has instilled some drastic technique changes and helped her with the process of becoming a professional in track and field.

“We have a good group of women and the thrower group as a whole, specifically the group of older ladies on our team that are extremely hard workers and are dedicated,” Kelso said. “They love throwing, love training. They all push each other. [Walker’s] jumped in and has been a part of that which has helped her training, helps everyone. When there’s a group of people that enjoy doing it and pushing each other, to help each other out on good days or bad days.”

Walker is majoring in kinesiology, the study of the body and how it moves to achieve different tasks. Her major is going to assist her to someday pursue a career as a teaching coach, which she has always had a knack for being a support system among her team.

“I think she would be a good coach, just yesterday, she was helping me when I was throwing shot put,” Shaffer said. “Just reminding me like … what all I need to do. She brought up something that was the tips that coach was telling me and I had totally forgotten about, and that helped me go further yesterday. I think she would definitely be a great coach.”

Courtesy Mean Green Sports

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Alaina Malone

Alaina Malone

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