Sprint Racer Katie Walker Was Primed For Para-Cycling World Debut
by Paul D. Bowker
Katie Walker looks on during a training session at the 2022 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Katie Walker found the fast lane for a world championships trip to France.
Walker, a Para-cycling sprint specialist in the WC5 classification, was one of 11 U.S. cyclists competing in the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Oct. 20-23, in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France, just outside of Paris.
Walker is a native of Chinese Taipei but was adopted by her U.S. parents when she was 2. She made her life in Ohio, growing up in Wilmington and later attending Ohio State University. She’s now a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and felt ready for her world championships debut.
“I would say it’s more exciting than anything,” said Walker prior to the competition. “I want to see what the international competition is. I’m interested and I’m excited to see where I stand among the field basically.”
Walker quickly established herself as among the best in the world in a competitive WC5 field. At worlds, she placed fifth in her signature event, the time trial.
Walker, who was born without the lower portion of her left arm, has found herself on the world stage before. Shortly after taking up track and field in 2013, she competed for the U.S. in three events at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.
Walker had a pair of top-10 finishes in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, placed sixth in the F46 javelin. She also competed in the long jump two years later at the world championships in Doha, Qatar.
But now cycling is her game.
Walker took up cycling just two years ago and immediately loved the sport. While sports quieted down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walker was interested in taking a spin on a velodrome. She signed up for a class. Within months, she was riding in a U.S. Paralympic Cycling virtual identification camp.
“It just looked really cool. Seriously,” Walker said.
Within a year, Walker was invited to a camp by Sarah Hammer-Kroening, a four-time Olympic medalist who is head coach of the U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling team. Jennie Reed, a three-time Olympian, is Walker’s personal coach and served as an assistant coach with the world team.
“I wasn’t a cyclist,” Walker said. “Of course, we all ride bikes when we were kids. That was pretty much the last time I rode a bike. It’s kind of like, get on a track, you’re there by yourself, no pedestrians, you’re going fast. It’s exhilarating. Fun.”
Her move from San Diego to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center came in January.
“I’m really good at cycling, but I have been really impressed just by the quality of athletes and staff,” Walker said of her experience in Colorado Springs. “It’s clear, they value hard work, commitment, excellence here. And for me to be just totally immersed in a brand-new sport and at this level, it really has been challenging. But it’s been rewarding.”
Walker likes the speed of track racing. She aggressively attacks the 500-meter time trial and has won national championships in that event the last two years. She added a national title in the non-Paralympic 200-meter fly in September on the 250-meter velodrome at the Velo Sports Center in Carson, California.
“Really, she’s a one-event rider,” said Ian Lawless, director of U.S. Paralympics Cycling. “That 500-meter, it’s all or nothing for about 40 seconds. Hopefully, less than 40 seconds.”
“It’s definitely intense,” said Walker, who won the time trial in Carson with a time of under 40 seconds. “High octane. Go forward. There’s no pacing. It’s definitely, go full go. Turn left, go full go, from the get-go to the end.”
Her times were even faster at a world team camp held in Carson.
“The camp was intense,” Walker said. “My coach, Jennie Reed, she said that this is world-class training. This is how world-class training is supposed to be. It was intense. I actually improved my times.”
“She’s gung-ho and she looks really good for her first world championships, and really her first international event in cycling,” Lawless said.
Walker, who celebrated her 36th birthday one day after arriving in Paris, hopes it is just the beginning of a journey that could possibly continue with an appearance at the Paralympic Games in two years at the same velodrome that hosted the world championships.
“That’s the goal, that’s the end goal really,” she said. “Being able to ride on that velodrome makes that much sweeter, being able to ride on it beforehand.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to USParaCycling.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.