As the track began to empty after the last 4x400m had crossed the line, there was one team gathered around the results board. The boys of the North Warren Track & Field Club huddled anxiously as they waited to see their time. Suddenly their coach ran across the track with his arms high in the air and all the boys began celebrating.
(L-R) Joe Toribio, Aidan Solano, Kyle Walker, Tommy King, Tim Ferguson
They finished sixth.
For the boys of North Warren, sixth place secured them a coveted medal at the USATF Youth Indoor Track & Field Championships and came with a 20 second club record of 4:34.47.
The boys knew that they weren’t the fastest team, but to make it to nationals from their small town of Hardwick, N.J., field a full relay and have their anchor Kyle Walker healthy enough to compete was reason enough to celebrate.
Months before, it was not clear if Walker would be able to compete at this year’s Youth Indoor Championships. Dealing with a brain tumor, Walker was facing much tougher competition.
In September of 2012, Walker was at his middle school’s soccer practice when he suffered a seizure and was rushed to the emergency room. Walker had always been a healthy and active boy, and he was suddenly faced with the reality that he had a brain tumor. In October, he was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital to have brain surgery.
Thankfully for Walker and his family, the tumor was benign. However, his journey back to healthy was far from easy. Weeks after his surgery, he began to develop an infection in his head and his family had to make the difficult trek into New York City the day after the city was ravaged by hurricane Sandy. The second surgery to battle his infection was even harder for Walker to recover from than the first.
“The doctor said it wasn’t going to be as bad as the first surgery, but the pain was worse afterwards because everything was irritated,” Walker said. “We had trouble managing the medications afterwards, so that was probably the toughest part of dealing with the actual physical pain.”
For the 13-year-old Walker, having to sit on the sidelines was one of the most difficult parts of his recovery. Walker is an all-around athlete, playing baseball, basketball, soccer, throws the shot put and loves to run on the 4x400. He looks up to Bernard Lagat and Derek Jeter and wants to play basketball in college someday.
“It was tough because it was right at the beginning of basketball season,” Walker said. “It was tough to go to practice and just sit on the side.”
Even though he was under doctor’s orders and couldn’t join his teammates practicing on the court, Walker still made it to nearly every practice. He cheered on his teammates, helped set up cones, returned balls and was in every huddle that the team closed by chanting his name.
For those in the stands watching Walker at the Youth Indoor Championships, it would be difficult to imagine all that he has been through in the past six months. Walker looks just like any other kid, loves being around his teammates and just wants to win a medal.
Walker will have to undergo multiple MRIs over the next year and even longer as his doctors continue to monitor his brain, but he is expected to lead a normal life and does not have any lingering effects from the tumor.
“I definitely think I am 100 percent now,” Walker said. “In January when I was playing basketball I wasn’t playing as much as I normally would because I was out of shape from sitting on the bench, but now I think I’m recovered and back to normal.”
But Walker will always have an appreciation for life beyond his years.
“It give you a different look at life. It gives you a different point of view to be happy about what you have and to enjoy your life while you're in it. It was tough, but now that it is over, it was a good experience to have. It teaches you a lesson. It wasn’t fun in any way, but it teaches you a life lesson.”
At the USATF Youth Indoor Track & Field Championships on March 9-10, Kyle Walker finished eighth in the 13-14 boys shot put in 9.86m/32-04.25 . He anchored the North Warren Track and Field Club 4x400m of Tim Ferguson, Tommy King and Joe Toribio to a sixth place finish in 4:34.47. For more information on the North Warren Track & Field Club, vist www.northwarrentrack.org