When Christina Walter was crowned the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division 2 Outdoor Track and Field Champion in the 100-meter dash back in early June, she didn't get too emotional.
That's just not her style.
"She's not one of those to jump up and down and be crazy," Maple Grove coach Marcus Clark said of the junior with a laugh, "but you can definitely tell she was happy. She was doing a lot of smiling."
A familar sight this season was Maple Grove junior Christina Walter out in front all alone.
Photo by Tim Frank
Nowadays, Walter's old-school, business-as-usual demeanor is refreshing, to be sure, but in this particular case it would have been understandable for her to go at least a little crazy; after all, just a few weeks before some had doubted whether she'd make it back on the track again that season.
But not even an early-season setback - a setback that came in the form of a stress fracture in her left leg - could stand in the way of the Maple Grove Lady Red Dragon and her lofty goals. And when Walter returned from that injury and proceeded to win not only the Section 6, but also, and impressively, the state title before placing second - that's right, second - in the Federation race (which pits the best runners from the entire state against one another, regardless of Division) behind a sub-12 second time (breaking her own school record for the third time in as many weeks), it was a no-brainer as to who was going to be this year's Post-Journal Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
"She's got the gift you can't coach," Clark said. "She's one of those success stories where you see hard work fulfilled, because she does work hard - harder than anybody."
This is the second straight year in which Walter, who the season before last became the first athlete in Maple Grove school history to win a state title when she captured both the 100- and 200-meter Division 2 titles, has proven herself the best track athlete in the area.
"It was an awesome (season)," Clark marvelled. "She did everything she could possibly do. She had to sacrifice a lot, miss out on some invitationals and miss out on running the 200 at states again, but she still ended up being the second-fastest girl in New York State."
All together, Walter raced to a first-place finish in the state championships with a time of just 12.20. Then, at the Federation race, she did even better, posting a blistering time of just 11.98, which was a mere 24-tenths of a second shy of winner Kadecia Baird of Medgar Evers Prep School in Brooklyn.
That she could run at such breakneck speed - on the biggest stage - wasn't a surprise to her coach; it's exactly that ability to rise to the occasion, in fact, that's arguably made her the best sprinter in the state two-years running.
"She always runs at the level of competition she has to beat," Clark said. "She gets out of the gates ahead and maintains enough to win. Christina wants that competition, wants to run against the best. Because you have to beat the best to be the best."
Walter's season, deservedly full of high expectations due to her successful sophomore campaign, started out just about as well as could be. She dominated the highly-competitive Olean Invitational, setting new meet and track records on the way to winning both the 100 and 200 against some of the best competition, large school and small, in the area, and even was awarded one of the coveted Fay Cousen's Memorial Plaque, which is given the day's most outstanding athletes.
Soon thereafter, however, the pain started. And following an MRI that revealed a stress fracture, it looked as though her junior season might have been prematurely finished.
"For the most part, I've always been the optimist," Clark said, "you have to be when you're a coach. But in her situation, I kind of wrote her off and figured that anything she could do as far as coming back was just icing on the cake."
Unlike her coach, however, Walter remained undeterred. So while she dutifully traveled with to meets to support her teammates, she wasn't about to let her goal of winning another state title slip away. Instead she kept lifting weights, water jogged and, in the end, came back with a vengeance.
"(When she came back) she just got better and better," Clark said. "She changed all her training - with water jogging and things like that - to come back as soon as possible and without losing anything.
"And I think she did that; she didn't lose anything."