Walker tackles equestrian excellence, too
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.