Walker tack­les eques­trian ex­cel­lence, too

Orlando Sentinel - - VARSITY / GOLF - By Chris Hays

LEES­BURG — Kanyon Walker wakes up ev­ery morn­ing at 5:30. Un­like most teenagers, he doesn’t have to be poked and prod­ded to get out of bed. He doesn’t hit the snooze but­ton and roll back over.

Walker drags him­self out of bed be­cause he knows Du­rango is count­ing on him. Du­rango is a thor­ough­bred horse, Walker’s eques­trian com­pe­ti­tion part­ner, and he ex­pects Walker to be there. Walker does not want to let down his best friend.

“It’s pretty spe­cial. You have to ap­pre­ci­ate an an­i­mal that comes to work for you ev­ery day,” said Walker, whose pas­sions are quite unique among his peers.

Walker plays foot­ball at First Academy of Lees­burg, but he’s also an elite eques­trian rider with Olympic as­pi­ra­tions. He’s as ded­i­cated and de­ter­mined as any 17-year-old you will ever come across. It’s his love for both sports that drives him.

That’s why to­day he will rise be­fore the sun hits the hori­zon and race off to his horse’s barn in HoweyIn-TheHills for his usual morn­ing train­ing ex­er­cises with Du­rango. Af­ter train­ing, he’ll be back at First Academy for classes, be­fore head­ing off to the Ocala area in the af­ter­noon to walk through the course that is the site of Satur­day’s Open Pre­lim­i­nary com­pe­ti­tion at the Ex­moor Fall Horse Tri­als.

Af­ter his course walk­thru with coach Jen­nifer Holling, Walker will try to get back to Lees­burg in time to meet the bus with the foot­ball team to travel to Lake­land for tonight’s game at Santa Fe Catholic School.

If he misses the bus, grandma will be there ready to rush him to the game. He might be a lit­tle late, but he’ll be there.

“I do have to sac­ri­fice a lot of time for it, but I’m pas­sion­ate about both things so the love I have for it doesn’t re­quire too much ex­tra,” Walker said.

His team­mates need him. First Academy has only 23 play­ers on its ros­ter this sea­son. The Ea­gles need ev­ery player they have, and Walker just hap­pens to be one of their best. He plays both ways at run­ning back and cor­ner­back.

“I am bi­ased, but the di­ver­sity of his pas­sions is in­cred­i­ble. I can’t be a more proud fa­ther. He’s pretty spe­cial,” beams Shel­don Walker, who just so hap­pens to be the First Academy head foot­ball coach. “I’ve never seen any­one with so much fo­cus. It’s mind-blow­ing.”

It’s a fam­ily af­fair and the horse-rid­ing pas­sion comes from mom. Kayce Walker was once an avid horse­back rider and although she never rode com­pet­i­tively, she passed her pas­sion to son Kanyon and daugh­ter Kali.

Walker is one of very few African-Amer­i­can male eques­trian rid­ers at his age level, which also puts him in a unique po­si­tion. He’s not the first, but his level of ex­per­tise puts him on a path to­ward be­com­ing a trail­blazer for in the sport. Randy Ward was the first African-Amer­i­can eques­trian rider.

“I think it’s great, the fact that no one has re­ally ever done it,” Walker said of be­ing a young black man in a sport dom­i­nated by Cau­casian women. “It’s ex­cit­ing to ex­plore that side of the sport and have a chance to rep­re­sent.”

Walker knows he has much more to do be­fore he’ll ever reach that level, and eques­tri­ans do not usu­ally reach their prime un­til their late 20s or early 30s. He is de­ter­mined.

“Try­ing to stay in sync with a thou­sand-pound an­i­mal is not very easy. To be at the top of the sport it takes years and year of ded­i­ca­tion.”

It’s a ded­i­ca­tion he’s will­ing to put forth and it’s the di­rec­tion he wants for his life. First, how­ever, he’ll head off to col­lege, which, he hopes, will be paid for by his tal­ent in his other pas­sion. His fa­ther played foot­ball at East­ern Ken­tucky and he wants to fol­low in dad’s foot­steps at any univer­sity that will af­ford him the schol­ar­ship op­por­tu­nity.

“There is so much that hap­pens between where I am now and ac­tu­ally get­ting to the Olympics,” Walker said. “You gotta get ed­u­ca­tion, so hope­fully af­ter col­lege I’ll be able to come back and maybe get a job work­ing for one of my men­tors, who is Buck David­son. He’s in Ocala in the win­ters and Penn­syl­va­nia in the sum­mers. He’s a great men­tor for me and hope­fully I can start chip­ping away at my goals and as­pi­ra­tions from there.”


Kanyon Walker will train for a ma­jor eques­trian com­pe­ti­tion be­fore he plays a foot­ball game to­day.


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