The quick rise of Katie Walker
Katie Walker discovered the Paralympic Movement on YouTube.
In Oct. 2012, a friend stumbled upon a video from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games on the Internet. It was the women’s 100-meter race for T46s, below-the-elbow amputees like Walker.
“I had never seen that before,” said Walker, who was adopted from Taiwan and grew up in Ohio. “I watched the race and saw the times of the women. They were really fast. It was really competitive.”
Walker had been competing in able-bodied sports, primarily baseball and softball, her entire life. Three years removed from Ohio State University, where she graduated with a degree business administration and concentrations in finance and real estate, she began her research on the Paralympic Games.
She looked at the list of sports.
Alpine skiing? No.
Track and field? Yes.
“No matter what type of athlete you are there is an event for your talent and what you’re good at,” Walker said. “I knew when I was looking at the list, I wanted track and field to be my sport. I knew I could be good at it because the sprint events are similar to running the base paths and being explosive chasing after a ball in center field and the javelin is a little bit like a baseball throw.”
She found Paralympic Sport Clubs in San Diego, where she lived, and Ohio, where she grew up. “I contacted the clubs to see how I could get involved,” Walker said.
The Paralympic Sport Club in San Diego put her in touch with Travis Ricks at the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a San Diego based organization that provides competitive athletics opportunities to people with physical disabilities.
“Other than my family, Travis has been one of my biggest supporters,” Walker said. “He went on the track with me and timed my 100 for one of the very first times.”
Her times were fast.
Ricks, who manages athlete relations for CAF, put Walker in touch with Olympic gold medalist Joaquim Cruz, the resident coach for the U.S. Paralympics track and field program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in nearby Chula Vista.
Cruz has put Walker in touch with a world of opportunity.
On Saturday, she will compete at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics Grand Prix Final, an event modeled after the able-bodied Diamond League. It is her first international competition.
“It’s a blessing,” Walker said. “It feels great just to be able to compete on the world’s stage and have a platform to inspire and to serve as support and guidance for those who may be struggling with their disability."
Walker wants to take home hardware from Birmingham, England, but that is not her priority.
“I would love to win but realistically, I am just going there to get my feet wet in international competition,” she said. “The training program that Coach Cruz has designed for me is a gradual progression of intensity. I am not going to be at 100-percent in Birmingham because he wants me to stay healthy for the long-term and avoid the risk getting injured. I am not in tip-top form but I am going to do the best I can.”
After competing in Birmingham, Walker will return to Chula Vista, Calif., for two weeks before she departs for the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France, July 19-28.
Walker, who moved to San Diego after college for a career opportunity, has been training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center for the past few months. But she only has a few Paralympic competitions to her credit, including the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships, where she was a top performer.
“I love it,” Walker said. “The athletes I train with everyday are world class athletes. They’re at the top of their game. They go out there every day and they get the job done, like an able-bodied athlete would.”
Walker is one of 76 U.S. athletes competing in Lyon.
“I’m looking forward to getting know the other athletes the most, especially the athletes who are in my classification,” Walker said. “In the United States, there are not many athletes who are below the elbow amputees. I’m excited to compete with similar athletes.”
Although Walker was born without part of her left arm, she will compete with two arms in Birmingham and Lyon. She was recently fitted with a sprinting arm in Portland, Ore., by Advanced Arm Dynamics.
"A lot of people probably don’t think you need an arm to run because you have legs," Walker said. "The sprinting arm will give me more balance and power down the track as well as more stabilization in the blocks. Also, it is designed to be aerodynamic and provide fuller range of motion."
Walker has used a sprinting arm before but she hopes the new arm will improve her performance.
“I was just trying to think of creative ways to improve performance legally,” she said. “I have always played sports without the use of a prosthesis. I could run without an arm. I could throw the javelin without an arm. However, I think I can do those things better with the activity-specific prosthesis."
Less than a year into her career, there is no limit to how good Walker can be.
“The goal is to get better and better every time,” she said. “Ultimately, I want to compete at the Paralympic Games for my country.”
The journey starts now.