For the first six months of his mission to Manchester, England, BYU 800-meter track star Shaquille B. Walker (BS ’17) didn’t talk much about his running. But before he introduced himself in a new ward, the bishop gave him a charge: “Elder Walker, I want you to tell them exactly how good you were and then tell them that you gave it all up to go on a mission.”
Worried he’d seem prideful, Walker, then a convert of less than two years, didn’t mention his running. The bishop later chastised him: “You really believe it was you, not God, or otherwise you would be telling everyone about it.”
It was a new perspective for Walker. “It changed me,” he says. “He was right. I don’t think I realized that it was a gift from God.”
Up to that point running was just something Walker did. He was good at it—really good: in high school he was a two-time Georgia state champion. But his heart wasn’t in it. “It was a way to pay for college,” he says.
His mission, however, was a turning point in many ways. Another realization: two minutes of all-out exertion didn’t seem so tough after two years of hard missionary labor every day.
Walker returned to BYU for the 2014–15 school year and dove into competition as if he “hadn’t missed a beat,” recalls Edward D. Eyestone (BA ’85, MS ’90), BYU’s track head coach. In April 2015 he first qualified for the Olympic trials, and in July 2015 he won gold at the World University Games.
At the time, he says, it felt “weird” to think that the Olympics were even a possibility. But after another year of standout performances under his belt, including an April Sun Angel Classic 1:44.99 win that made him the fastest 800-meter runner in the nation at that time and one of only seven NCAA runners to ever break 1:45, he’s hungry. In an interview before July’s trials, he said, “Before, I had no expectations. Now I want it.”
Eyestone describes the 800-meter race as a battle “of positioning, jostling, strategizing, kicking, elbowing, potentially being boxed in.” But he’s confident in Walker’s ability: “There are really no limits as long as he stays healthy,” he says.
And as Walker’s own confidence continues to grow, he hasn’t forgotten what his Manchester bishop taught him. “I have definitely seen that the closer I am to God, the better I run,” he says.
At June’s NCAA championships, Walker and BYU women’s track star A. Shea Martinez-Collinsworth (’17) each placed third in their respective 800-meter finals. Read about their performances at more.byu.edu/NCAAchamps. Both qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials; Walker narrowly missed the finals, finishing 10th overall.