Gene pool meets the swimming pool

By Aaron Graff

SIU’s Rick Walker has coached swimming for 28 years, but he has never coached his own daughter until now.

Freshman Kelsie Walker is the daughter of Walker and will be joining the Saluki swimming and diving team at SIU. Her original top choices for school were Evansville University, University of Kentucky, University of Miami, Purdue University and Ohio State University.

“Originally SIU was not on my list at all because he was my dad,” she said. “I didn’t want the team to exclude me or treat me any different because I was the coach’s daughter.”


Kelsie finished fourth in the Illinois State High School Finals in the 500-yard freestyle race last year with a time of 4:56.66. Rick was coaching at the Phoenix Invite in Chicago that weekend and had enough time to watch.

“It meant a lot to me that he could be there,” she said. “He was there as a dad. He wasn’t there as a coach. He was up there cheering for his daughter, and that’s probably what meant the most to me.”

Rick said he recruited Kelsie the same way as any swimmer, by making a phone call from his basement. He also made it known he would take her to visit any other school she was interested in and would support her decision no matter what.

“I called her on July 1 to make her first recruiting phone call to let her know that yes, SIU is interested,” Rick said. “Then I laid out the framework. We wanted us to be one of her five visits.”

Rick said he checked with his administrators before he made her any scholarship offer because he wanted to make sure it was fair and clean. He said he would offer someone at Kelsie’s caliber more scholarship money than what he offered his daughter.

He said Kelsie was never completely sold on going to other schools. He said some schools pitched that if she went there she could beat her dad’s team.

“That set her over the edge,” Rick said. “That’s when she came back and reevaluated.”

Rick said he coaches Kelsie the same as all swimmers.

“Once they walk through the door, they’re all the same to me,” Rick said. “ … It’s been that way since I’ve started coaching.”

While the Walkers reside in Carbondale, Kelsie is living in the residence halls with freshman swimmer Bryn Handley.

“In some respects I’m trying to remove myself,” Rick said. “So that I’m not in her face and can experience what it’s like to be in college that everybody else gets to experience.”

Handley said Kelsie definitely earned her spot on the team and is one of the best swimmers.

Kelsie isn’t the first Walker to move out of the Walker residence. Junior thrower Kyle Walker also attends SIU and lives in an apartment in town.

“It’s really quiet around the house,” Rick said. “My wife said the other day she got home and she kind of freaked out because she didn’t have to rush. She’s always rushing to do something for somebody else and she didn’t have to do that.”

Kyle swam competitively for nearly 10 years, up until his senior year of high school. He said in eighth grade his physical education teacher and neighbor persuaded him to join the track team because he was bigger than most kids.

“I haven’t lost the love of [swimming],” Kyle said. “I just wanted to pursue something different to see if I fit there better.”

Kyle said if he swam, he would want to be coached by Rick.

Rick said watching Kyle brings the same amount of pleasure as coaching Kelsie.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s always been kind of a long time dream that maybe one day I’d be able to coach my daughter,” Rick said. “I felt the same way about my son, but Kyle just kept on growing.”

Kyle said he stands behind his decision of coming to SIU, and he’s happy Kelsie chose SIU because they are close.

“Throughout the duration of her visiting other colleges and talking to other coaches, I know she just felt like more and more that this was her place,” Kyle said.

Kelsie said Rick has treated her like everyone else, and she hopes it stays that way.

“I’m just a swimmer on the Saluki team,” she said. “There’s really no difference. I just happen to be related to and look like him. That’s about as far as it goes.”

Aaron Graff can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or at 536-3311 ext. 282