They may be known as the Walkers, but this family does not maintain a slow pace.
SIU swimming coach Rick Walker, one of the family’s anchors, has done it all both in and outside the pool. He has been a member of the United States national team and has taken one of his swimmers to the Olympics.
In Walker’s 21 years as coach of the Salukis, he has received numerous accolades such as the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year, which he has won four times, and the 2012 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year.
The most impressive thing about him, though, is that he might not even be the best athlete in his immediate family.
Walker’s wife Eileen, whom he met as a student at Texas A&M, was an NCAA All-American swimmer for the Aggies. She said he caught her eye when she was a freshman.
“He had just competed at the National Sports Festival and was on TV,” she said. “I thought that was pretty cool. He was the stud on the team.”
Eileen Walker coaches the Saluki swim club, which is composed of swimmers of all ages and abilities.
Their son Kyle swam for 10 years but has found another niche in the athletic world. Kyle Walker, a sophomore studying exercise science, is a thrower on the Saluki track and field team.
Kelsie, a junior at Carbondale High School, has stuck with swimming. She has been continually ranked as one of the best Illinois high school swimmers.
Rick and Eileen Walker said they never forced swimming on their children; Kyle and Kelsie just found their way in the pool.
“We were around the pool all the time, and it was something they naturally picked up,” Rick Walker said.
He said as his son’s body developed, he found another calling.
“He took to swimming, but swimming kind of spit him out,” he said. “He picked up the shot disk and had a knack for that because he could throw heavy objects. His love turned to that, which is fine, as long as it’s something that will teach him to be something better.”
That was the goal from the beginning for Kyle and Eileen, who said they did not care what sport their children got into, as long as it kept them active.
Eileen Walker said Kelsie had been aching to get in the pool since she was young.
“I distinctly remember when Kyle started summer league swimming, and she was too young to swim,” she said. “I couldn’t find her one day at the end of a meet. When I found her, she was sitting with her arms crossed and totally aggravated because she wasn’t old enough to swim.”
Kelsie said she remembers the days when she longed to start swimming.
“My brother got into swimming and was in summer league, and I would sit there all day in the heat,” she said. “All I wanted to do was jump into the pool. Ever since I was little, all I’ve wanted to do is swim.”
Kelsie said she would definitely beat her mom or dad in a race.
She said she finds that her dad doesn’t interfere with her swimming, but he does evoke life lessons from the pool.
“My dad does compare life a lot to swimming,” she said of his advice. “If you work hard, you’ll achieve all of your goals.”
Rick said he never wanted his or Eileen’s swimming legacies to add pressure to their children’s athletic careers. He said he knows what his role is in their lives when it comes down to it.
“Around our house, you don’t see our awards and you don’t see our trophies, medals, or certificates,” he said. “When I go to my daughter’s meets, I’m as dumb as the next dad because I have purposely done that. I need to be her dad, but I don’t need to be her coach. She’s got one of those.”
Outside of athletics, both Kyle and Kelsie said they would like to take up occupational therapy for their careers. Kyle said he has persued college programs throughout the United States to find a graduate school that is right for him.
Though the Walker children may leave Carbondale in the coming years, Rick said he wants them to always remember where they came from.
“I grew up with four brothers who all swam and were captains of their college teams, and the one thing we always said was that we always knew where home was,” he said. “If nothing else, I want my kids to remember where home is.”
Eileen said she hopes to have her children around as much as possible in the future.
“(I want) us to live long, healthy and happy lives together,” Eileen said. “That is a prayer I’ve said since we’ve started this family.”