A native of Smithers, B.C., David Walker, is a multi-sport athlete and first year mechanical engineering student at the University of Victoria that walked on as a novice into the Vikes men’s rowing program. Having been upright on skis since the age of two, he began his career by practicing on carpet with a pair of “Snow Party” skis that strapped his winter boots directly into them. Twenty years later, Walker is currently in Krasnoyarsk, Russia representing Canada at the 29th World Winter Universiade Games in cross country skiing.
In the fall of 2018, Walker decided he was ready to be a part of a team and thrown into the varsity team culture. He attended the annual talent-combine event for rowing in which any athlete without experience can try out.
“I knew when I was a little tired of skiing, I wasn’t even close to being finished as a competitive athlete,” said Walker. “Now I am excited to train every day whether it be on skis or in a boat. It’s important to have a project that I am passionate about and believe in and my special blend of Vikes and nordic skiing couldn’t be more on point for my interests.”
Vikes varsity rowing head coach Aalbert Van Schothorst was impressed with Walker’s performance at the try out given he had no prior experience with the sport.
“David came in and just smashed it,” said Van Schothorst. “He’s got a huge aerobic base from cross country skiing and an incredible work ethic. Since skiing is an endurance sport, they log tons of meters and the sheer cardiovascular base built in the sport is just massive.”
Walker is not the only one to highlight skiing as a great training sport for rowing. Alec Staff, current captain of the men’s rowing team, also has a cross country skiing background. Van Schothorst shared that the two sports are very compatible given the endurance and the discipline it takes to be successful. He also added that many interior based rowing clubs who have to deal with freezing six months of the year take up cross country skiing as a form of cross training during the winter season.
Walker’s commitment and will to make sacrifices speaks for itself. Waking up at 5 a.m. for rowing practice seven times a week with an additional three strength sessions per week puts him at a total of training 20 hours, solely for rowing. Additionally, Walker’s enrollment as a mechanical engineer leaves little room for him to train for cross country skiing.
“I wouldn’t call it balance,” shared Walker. “I make sacrifices. When I row, I cannot ski. When I focus on ski training, I am too tired to benefit from rowing training. When I am at UVic, I row. When I am home on holiday, I train to ski.”
Beyond being a student-athlete and a member of Team Canada’s Cross Country Skiing Team, Walker works as a firefighter during the summer season where he experiences intense situations. There, he learned what it truly means to be on a team that relies immensely on every individual to perform, cooperate and play for the team.
“I knew rowing would be the closest thing to my fire-fighting team, and that environment is intoxicating for me” Walker explained.
Walker is one of many Vikes rowers who works as a firefighter during the summer season. Van Schorst shared that the Vikes rowing team has a strong legacy with the B.C. forest fire fighting department.
Walker expresses his excitement as he heads off to his first competition on the international stage for cross country skiing.
“My goals for FISU games are to race my best, make friends, and follow through on schoolwork,” Walker stated. “I am feeling some of my best fitness of my life and I have a great perspective on skiing now that I am a rower. I don’t take this sport for granted anymore and I’ve been able to appreciate all the experiences more wholeheartedly.”
Walker shared that he’s already made some international friends who have welcomed him in and aided him when the airline he flew with had lost his skiing equipment.
“I made a new friend from Norway, and will be racing on a spare pair of skis of his because mine were lost in Canada,” added the 22-year-old. “It’s those sorts of friendships that are being formed out here” remarked Walker.”
Van Schothorst described Walker as a ready-to-go, team oriented athlete with a desire to create high goals and reach them under any circumstances. Moreover, all of the coaches are looking forward to seeing how rowing will impact his results in cross country skiing.
“Focused, intense, purposeful,” stated Van Schothorst. “He comes in with goals and their very high and lofty and he’s prepared to work for them. He’s a phenomenal team member and fits into our culture around attitude and excellence and operating with intent. We think we’re going to get a pretty exciting five years out of him. Given the opportunity, we think he can go quite a distance. He’s learned how to tolerate lactate in a different, unique way and getting to see how power endurance can impact his skiing is very exciting.”
Walker found his varsity experience thus far to have exceeded his expectations. Despite being tremendously busy as a multisport student-athlete, he takes time to appreciate his supportive team.
“Joining the rowing team has been like making 90 friends for free,” highlighted Walker. “It is a community here and every athlete is an athlete’s type of person. Everyone wants to do well, there is a lot of hard work being put in at all levels. Just stepping in the room with so many dedicated student athletes is special, inspiring and I’m fired up to keep on this path. Aalbert and (Barney Williams) are two amazing leaders of the men’s and women’s programs, respectively. They create a culture of hard work and teamwork that lifts up every athlete in their presence.”
Walker is in Russia from Mar. 2-12 with a full schedule here