CHARLOTTE – Even as a freshman at Myers Park, a school that hasn’t won a team swimming title since 1964, it was obvious the stage was never going to be too big for Jack Walker.
That season, Walker swam in two relays and an individual event, placing fourth in the 100 freestyle and helping the 200 freestyle relay team place ninth and the 400 freestyle relay take 12th. The Mustangs finished 15th that season, with Walker having a hand in 43 of the team’s 46 points.
“I had come up swimming in some of the bigger meets since I’ve been at (SwimMAC), so I felt comfortable right away,” said Walker, who started swimming at age 2 but started training at Charlotte Latin’s MAC facility seriously about the time he entered high school.
The hard work would start to pay off in big ways in 2016.
At that summer’s Speedo Winter Jr. Championships, Walker set the tone for what to come. At that meet, and at age 15, Walker swam 1 minute, 33.73 seconds, a time that just one percent of NCAA Division 1 athletes can swim, according to Swimmingrank.com. It is still the U.S. No. 1 time for Walker’s age group, vaulting him onto the national scene and making college coaches take note.
As a sophomore, he backed up that performance by winning his first individual state title as he took the 200 freestyle championship in 1:39.61.
It was good enough to beat a senior-heavy field of the state’s best by more than a full second, but Walker wasn’t done.
He helped the 400 freestyle relay place fourth and the 200 freestyle relay take fifth.
With the arrival of freshman Hugh Svendsen and other talented young swimmers and Walker leading the way the Mustangs were sixth that season.
As a junior, Walker continued to dominate in his individual events but also helped push a pair of relay teams to becoming state champions with him.
Walker dominated the 200 freestyle, swimming 1:37.75 to break the 2006 Class 4A record of Enloe’s Charlie Houchin.
Walker teamed with Svendsen, Andrew Warlick and Cameron Miller to win the 400 freestyle by 1.5 seconds ahead of the field and win the state title in the 200 freestyle relay again with Svendsen, Miller and Charles Clickner by a half second.
But even with all of the pedigree of a two-time individual champion and two-time relay champion, this season was lining up to be something special after a great offseason and Walker’s commitment to swim at Virginia starting next year.
“Coming into this year, I knew that I wanted to have a good senior year so it was a little bit different that way,” Walker said.
Along the way, Walker broke an old Myers Park record at a conference meet, a feat he doesn’t take lightly.
“That’s one of the coolest things for me,” he said. “I broke a 30-year old school record earlier in December. It is cool to have my name up there and get that recognition, but it’s not something I was shooting for.
“I try to be a good leader for my team and swim my best, but it is definitely rewarding to break some of these records and have my name up there.”
At the regional championship, Walker won both the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle championships in convincing fashion while helping a pair of relays finish as regional runners-up.
But at the state meet, from the moment Walker dipped into the water, it was a different feeling.
“I had a really good feeling in the water that day,” he said. “I went into preliminaries and felt pretty good about myself. But I also felt like I had a lot more to give after my morning swim.”
And he didn’t waste any time showing it was going to be a special day.
In the preliminaries of the 200 freestyle, Walker swam 1:37.02 and broke the 4A meet record before the state championship had even started.
In the actual race, Walker swam 1:35.46, a mark that was 1.65 seconds faster than anyone in North Carolina had swam in an NCHSAA meet, breaking the 2016 record for Carborro’s Will Macmillan.
“It really is just me swimming against the clock,” Walker said. “At one point I did see that there wasn’t anyone right with me, but I knew the time I was shooting for. When I hit the wall, it was amazing. My coach came running over and it was great. It was just a really special meet for me.”
But Walker was far from done. He added his fourth career individual title, taking the 500 freestyle in 4:20.67, which was a truly dominating swim and more than nine seconds ahead of the field. It also broke the 4A state record.
Walker also helped the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams place fourth and lead the Mustangs to sixth overall.
Walker leaves Myers Park as a multiple time region champion and a six-time state champion. He is the state record-holder in the 200 freestyle relay and the 4A champion in the 500 freestyle.
“It is something that’s very important to me and it’s something that I worked really hard for and something that I’m really proud of,” he said.
Walker will leave for Virginia in July, but has one last big meet with his SwimMAC team in Indianapolis at the Junior Nationals and there are club team state championships where he hopes to earn Olympic trial cuts.
But he also leaves as one of the state’s most accomplished freestylers with a bright future ahead.
“I love swimming here with this team and this competition every day,” he said. “It has definitely made me a better swimmer and pushed me to get better. I had a good year and was able to break some records which is really cool. I’m proud and I’m humbled by it.”