By Julia Livesey
All it took was a little convincing from a high school algebra teacher to influence Michael Walker to join the track and field team. He figured it would be a good way to stay in shape before baseball season started.
Little did he know he’d be permanently trading baseball cleats for running shoes.
Today, Walker is running in a new position back at his alma mater in hopes of taking the cross-country and track and field teams to greater lengths as the new full-time assistant coach.
The three-time national qualifier began his collegiate running career at Pennsylvania State University. After deciding to change his major from architecture to education, Walker transferred to the College and competed for the Lions in both baseball and track until graduating in 2000.
After his sophomore and junior year practicums, Walker knew that both teaching and coaching were passions of which he wanted to make a career.
“I found satisfaction in helping students and athletes reach their goals, even through the tough, difficult times,” Walker said. “I taught high level mathematics courses like calculus for 15 years before coming to TCNJ. If you can do calculus, you can pretty much do anything. I approach coaching cross-country and track and field the same way.”
After college, Walker spent 10 years coaching three state championship teams, as well as numerous high school All-Americans at Robbinsville High School in Robbinsville, N.J.
“I was lucky as a coach to have talented athletes who believed in my message and in each other,” Walker said. “I still feel my biggest accomplishment is getting my athletes to love the sport to where they continued to run after they graduated, either competitively in college or in marathons or just run as a way of life and for good health.”
But now, Walker has new plans in store for coaching the Lions.
He’s striving to help the College’s student athletes get the best out of their running and studying. Each season, he plans to push athletes to achieve their personal best times and marks and to qualify as many athletes as possible to nationals.
“Each individual has something different that makes them tick and motivates them,” Walker said. “I will differentiate ways to motivate them.”
Walker has already motivated junior accounting major Andrew Tedeschi, a top distance runner who has competed at the national level. Tedeschi believes that Walker has had a great amount of success both as an athlete and coach and knows his passion and love for the sport will rub off on the team as a whole.
“Ever since Walker came on board, he has pushed my body to the limits,” Tedeschi said. “Because of his great coaching, I’m aiming for higher goals and becoming both a better athlete and teammate.”
Junior interactive multimedia and computer science double major Brandon Mazzarella also admires Walker for his coaching and teaching abilities both on and off the track.
“He is a TCNJ track and field and XC alumni so he understands the program more than anyone else. He has gone through everything we (have) so he is great at offering advice and insight to help us do our best,” Mazzarella said. “He knows we are capable of so much more and he wants nothing more than for everyone to reach their potential and then surpass it.”
Mazzarella, a mid distance 800-meter/mile runner, likes that Walker pushes the team hard and has incorporated a bunch of new things they hadn’t done previously.
“Although they are all a bunch of small things, such as regulating our sleeping and eating or getting us to do more strength training and stretching, they are paying huge dividends and the entire team as a whole is seeing ton of improvement.”
Head coach Justin Lindsey has no doubt in Walker’s plans. Lindsey believes Walker has been a tremendous addition to the staff and that his pride in the College cross country and track and field teams has made the transition quick for him.
“He’s very detail-oriented and works with the passion that is TCNJ,” Lindsey said. “One of the biggest things he brings to the program is his competitive spirit and understanding of the high school athlete. Being a successful coach at the high school level has given him a strong understanding on how to recruit student-athletes.”
The new assistant coach wants to continue the College’s success and plans to go even beyond what the school has already accomplished by achieving success at a national level. He believes that the work put in correlates directly to success and achieving one’s goals.
“There is no luck when it comes to racing against a clock or another competitor,” Walker said.
However, Walker knows that with any competitive sport come challenges along the way.
“It is a challenge to find that button to push for each individual to help motivate them to be their best. I find that most athletes have a hard time putting themselves out there because of the fear of what they see as failure,” Walker said.
Walker’s definition of failure has nothing to do with losing a meet, though.
“Failure to me is not trying or taking that risk… one of the greatest joys as a coach is when the athlete does take that risk, regardless of the outcome,” Walker said.