The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Sprinter Kalen Walker’s home stretch as a Hawkeye

Walker reflects on his track and field career in the Black and Gold.
Grace Smith
Iowa’s Kalen Walker smiles after setting a meet and personal record time of 6.59 in the men’s 60-meter dash during the Jimmy Grant Alumni Invitational at the Hawkeye Indoor Track Facility on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. The Hawkeyes hosted Western Illinois and Wisconsin, competing in events including the pentathlon, weight throwing, field events, and various running events at the indoor track.

Before walking the University of Iowa graduation stage in May, fourth-year sprinter Kalen Walker took the biggest stage in college track and field: the NCAA Championships.

Walker is the second fastest 60-meter sprinter in the country, with just five-hundredths of a second separating him from the top spot.

But Walker’s real victory was found along the way, during the journey to the big stage.

In high school, Walker was a multi-sport athlete at Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont High School, earning honors in football, basketball, and track and field.

In his third season, Walker took home a third-place finish in the 200-meter state race. In the 100-meter sprint, he placed fifth.

His performances caught the attention of Brent Ewing, the head cross country and track and field coach at Indian Hills Community College.

As an Indian Hills Warrior, Walker placed fifth in the 100-meter race with a 10.81 and fifth in the 200-meter race with a 21.35 at the National Junior College Athletic Association Regional XI Championships.

After one year at Indian Hills Community College, Walker became a Hawkeye.

“I ran some good times there, but it was just walk-on standards,” Walker said.

During his journey in the Black and Gold, those walk-on times morphed into Iowa school records, and an uncertain roster spot became an athletic scholarship.

Iowa Director of Track and Field Joey Woody says the evolution of Walker’s career was no surprise — the Iowa coaching staff suspected his success all along.

“I could tell right away that he had some tools,” Woody said of Walker’s fitness testing results and abilities in the weight room. “From there, we just had to fix his technique.”

Woody says perfecting running technique is a constant effort, but Walker’s work ethic makes it look easy.

“He’s a guy that wants to get better every day,” he said. “He’s a student of the sport.”

For Walker, studying track and field has resulted in records.

Walker claimed the 60-meter sprint as his own during the 2023-24 indoor track and field season — breaking the school record five times in three months.

He first set the tone during Iowa’s indoor track and field season debut on Dec. 9.

On his home track, Walker improved his own 2022 school record by one-hundredth of a second in the prelims of the 60-meter race with a time of 6.60. About an hour later, he ran a 6.59 in the finals to set a new school record.

Six weeks later, Walker did it again in 6.58 at the Black & Gold Invitational. Then, he clocked a 6.51 at the Jarvis Scott Open in Lubbock, Texas.

And for the final time, Walker solidified his 60-meter school record at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, tying his own record of 6.51.

According to Woody, Iowa’s lead sprinter can only be described as a “showman.”

But behind the curtain, Walker feels the weight of the sacrifices that come hand-in-hand with Division I sports.

Walker said he’s had two injuries and four muscle tears throughout his career. The most recent surgery took place last summer.

He refused to let it be a setback.

“I’ve figured out how to limit those injuries,” Walker said. “And how to get faster without running. That’s possible.”

These obstacles have taught the entire Hawkeye track and field program about how to handle conflict, even translating to real-life scenarios.

Tackling daily hurdles, maintaining a constant work ethic, balancing school and sports, and normalizing sacrifice create a sense of confidence for Walker outside of athletics.

“I really think I can be successful in anything I want to do right now,” he said. “This has taught me lessons that I can apply to anything in life.”

One of those lessons came as a surprise. Because as much as track and field encourages Walker to focus on his physical health, the sport has taught him the importance of prioritizing mental health.

“I pretty much go to practice, come home, eat, and go to bed,” Walker said of his daily schedule.

Woody makes it a priority to get his athletes the time they need to recover from their clock-like routines.

“I’m really patient with the fact that if [Walker] isn’t ready to go, he’s not ready to go,” Woody said. “I’m not going to push it when an athlete’s body or mind isn’t quite there.”

This training tactic allows the entire Iowa track and field program to put its full focus on each practice, lift, and race.

Walker says this is important, as track and field is a unique sport.

Track and field athletes don’t take the court multiple times a week. They don’t have 70,000 fans waving with them after the first quarter. They don’t have five sets to pull out a win.

Track and field is all-out from the moment the gun fires to the second the spike crosses the finish line: One try; one race; one result.

“Our performance is pretty much the entire sport, and us putting our best out there means everything to us,” Walker said.

Through it all, Walker remained focused on the team result.

“Sprinters in general tend to have a bit more of an ego,” Woody said. “But it’s never about him. It’s about what he can do to help the program.”

Walker has been a leader committed to fostering a selfless culture as a Hawkeye — and that’s exactly the legacy he wants to leave.

“I want to be remembered as a team-first guy who always had a positive attitude and wanted to help others improve.”

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About the Contributors
Mia Boulton
Mia Boulton, Sports Reporter
Mia Boulton is a freshman at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication, as well as exploring a possible double major in Sports Media. She works at the Daily Iowan as a sports reporter. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Mia has been a photographer for her hometown newspaper, The Record.
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.