FEATURE: Going for Gold
By Hayley Stauss | Photo by John Lee
Certainly no stranger to hard work, this dedicated athlete has big plans for her future. Jessica Walker, a Rochester native, is part of the 2014 Development Team for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Currently training in Lake Placid, N.Y., Walker hopes to compete in the Olympic Skelton run and represent the United States in the next winter games.
Walker got her athletic start when she was involved in basketball and track during her high school years at Aquinas. After graduating in 2008 she went on to Buffalo State University, where she became a track All-American athlete.
After graduating with a double major in forensic chemistry and biochemistry, Walker returned to her alma mater for a visit where she met new conditioning trainer, Nathan Young. Walker noted that Young recognized her drive and ambition and suggested she look into bobsled.
“My experiences at Buffalo State gave me the drive and determination to get where I am, in one year everything came together,” comments Walker.
By May 2013, Walker was ready to showcase her bobsledding skills in Lake Placid at the “Combine Test”– the first step to getting on the Olympic development team. After her performance, development coach Don Hass suggested that she take a trip down the ice on the sled, and make the transition to Skeleton. Requiring similar abilities needed for track, like speed and initial push, Walker connected with the sport immediately.
As a second- degree taekwondo black belt, Walker has never been afraid of hard work. Being new to the sport and the only woman to make the 2014 development team for this round proves that it all pays off and puts her on the road to the Olympics.
In less than a year, all of Walker’s plans had changed, but having a strong and skilled athletic background helped Walker as she took on this new sport.
“I didn’t even know what skeleton was,” she says. “But I love learning, I love that this is giving me an opportunity to develop. These people share my drive, so it’s enjoyable.”
It’s a lengthy process to get to the Olympic Games with several integral parts to complete along the way. With a positive attitude, Walker is optimistic that she has a fair shot.
From here, Walker will train on the development team and really show what she’s got. Her determination will be key as she moves towards team competitions to produce good times, and will have opportunities to compete in several skill competitions over the coming months. Two days of timed runs down the ice will determine what circuit she will be placed in for traveling competitions.
Walker will gain experience and build her resume as she competes across the world, working towards the National team. At the end of the summer a national competition will determine if Walker has earned her place on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team.
“The Olympics are every athlete’s dream,” says Walker. “I get to start fresh and try to perfect it as much as I can.”
Beyond her Olympic dreams, Walker ultimately wants to help people. Her dual degree was only the first step in her ultimate career goal—being a doctor. “I just have a lot of plans. I want something to fall back on so I’m never scrambling,” she notes. Walker is considering pediatric oncology: “I think that job requires someone stern, yet passionate. The family-to-family support is amazing and even to just change one life for even a second would be a good feeling.”
Well, she surely has a lot on her plate, but this determined athlete thrives on the inspiration that surrounds her. “In track, it was an individual competition, but for the greater good of your team. Skeleton is the same thing; it’s for the greater good of the team, and with the Olympics, the country.”
After talking with Jessica, there’s no doubt she’s determined, strong, and ready to prove herself and achieve her Olympic goals. Her background will give her the competitive edge to get to South Korea in 2018.
“I’ve always been self-motivated, and once I have a goal in mind I always do everything I can to get there. I used to be too hard on myself, but I’ve learned to adjust to things and take them all as learning experiences.”
Editor’s note: Training for the Olympics is not only hard work but is very expensive. Jessica is currently working to raise money to fund her training efforts. If you would like to contribute and help this local athlete represent Rochester in the 2018 Olympic games in South Korea, visit: www.gofundme.com/gojessicawalker.