by Connor Soudani
Junior Wes Walton is one of the most decorated swimmers on the Whitworth men’s swim team. He has already won eight individual Northwest Conference Championships during his three years at Whitworth and holds two individual school records in both the 200 backstroke and the 200 individual medley. He is now heading to the NCAA DIII Championships for the second year in a row. However, despite the ways in which he is thriving now, Walton actually left Whitworth as a freshman with no initial thoughts of coming back.
In his first year at Whitworth, Walton said he was having trouble academically and did not know whether or not he was going to make it at Whitworth.
“Freshman year I really kind of sucked at school and had to take a year off of swimming. I transferred to Boise State thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this at Whitworth’ and stuff like that.’ So I went to Boise State, didn’t swim for a year and that’s how I got an extra year of eligibility,” Walton said. “I just took a year off and realized I wasn’t supposed to be in engineering like I was, switched to kinesiology at Boise, wanted to go back to Whitworth and here I am.”
Head Coach Steve Schadt ended up being a guiding voice in helping Walton get back on the right path for his life, but said Walton’s problems were complex.
“He had to figure out why he was in college and why he wanted to swim and if he was in the right major and he had to figure out the academic side of things. He was finding himself as a lot of freshman do,” Schadt said.
Due to this period in Walton’s life, Schadt said Walton has changed for the better.
“When he came back to us, he came back to us as a much more mature guy because he had gone through a lot of those life struggles that everybody has to go through,” Schadt said. “The Wes you see today as a junior is very different from the Wes as a freshman.”
Walton thrived from the start in his return to Whitworth. He took home NWC individual championships in his first year and made it to nationals in his sophomore athletic year. Walton, who was competitive from the outset, said practices are even an opportunity for him to compete.
“Even on stuff that’s not supposed to be race-pace, I always find myself racing everyone anyways. I don’t know why, it’s just what I do,” Walton said.
Freshman Jason Smith said Walton has been very friendly toward other members of the team and that Walton’s attitude in practice is a good one to be around.
“He always has a positive attitude about practice and he doesn’t complain when sets are hard. He encourages others when they need encouraging,” Jason Smith said.
Schadt said Walton’s competitive attitude in practice is something Walton has developed in the last few years.
“He’s always going to be ultra competitive, but I think as a freshman it was about results and stuff like that and as he’s matured as an athlete. I think he’s still hypercompetitive but he’s learning to enjoy the process that goes along with that and the day-to-day and the practices and the swimming,” Schadt said.
After a multitude of struggles in Walton’s first few college years, Schadt said he saw what he thought was Walton’s highest point, last spring.
“He saw 180-degree turnaround from his freshman year,” Schadt said. “He ended up being an NCAA qualifier and an Academic All-American and he was so excited about that. That Academic All-American was important, if not more important than being a national champion. He was just stoked about that, and worked really hard to get to that point. For him, I think that was vindication of where he had been before because he had to struggle to get there.”
After 12 consecutive NWC Championship seasons for the men’s team, Walton knew with the loss of a few members of the team that this year, things were going to be close.
“For me personally, I knew that if it was going to happen, it was going to happen this year,” Walton said.
Walton had a spectacular meet by winning all three of his individual events. He broke his own NWC record in the 200 backstroke after previously winning the 200 and 400 yd I.M. After Whitman’s team took the lead on Sunday and came away with the overall victory, Walton said he felt he could have gone a bit faster, even in record-setting 200 backstroke.
“I’m always super competitive and I’m always trying to go faster and faster so if I feel like I trained hard enough and the results don’t show it then I’m a little bit upset,” Walton said. “I’m always trying to go back to the races in my head and think how I could have done something different to go a bit faster.”
Walton will finish his third season at the NCAA DIII Championships in Shenandoah, Texas on March 19-22.