By Tom Pedulla—
Passion and talent allowed Lucy Walker to emerge as state champion in the 200-yard freestyle and to be honored as the region’s premier swimmer.
The Dobbs Ferry senior is part of a combined team with Ardsley High School in addition to competing for the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester Marlins. She is an outstanding all-around swimmer but had long targeted the 200-yard freestyle, her best event.
“This was always something that’s been a dream for me,” she said. “I was just really proud. It was a super surreal moment.”
She also excels in the 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard individual medley, among other events, leading the Journal News to salute her as Westchester-Putnam’s Swimmer of the Year. As if all of that is not enough, she is a member of the National Honor Society bound for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Zac Hojnacki, her coach with the Mount Kisco-based Marlins, had anticipated such a lofty level of success for Walker since she joined his program as a 14-year-old.
“She’s got a really unique sense of joy for the sport that stuck out when she first came to us,” he said. “She is really passionate about swimming.
“Kids can have an up and down relationship with the sport because it’s very hard, especially as they get older. But she just seems to always love being in the water and the process itself. That joy has really been infectious for the entire duration of her time with us.”
Walker follows an incredibly demanding regimen that allows only for Sunday as a day of rest. Otherwise, she has nine practices a week, with each practice averaging two hours. She is committed to strength and conditioning two times a week. She has double practices on Tuesday and Thursday, leading to a 4:30 a.m. wakeup to begin days that must seem endless since practices bookend her demanding class schedule.
“I think a lot of what I’ve learned from swimming is being mentally tough, whether a race doesn’t go your way or maybe you didn’t get a place you wanted or having to get up so early in the morning,” she said.
The support of her parents, Mindy and Peter, has been huge, especially before she was able to drive. Peter also coaches her younger sisters, Ellie, 14, and Phoebe, 12, in soccer.
Walker also appreciates the role Hojnacki has played. “I’ve been really lucky with Zac that it’s been a really overall positive environment,” she said. “Practice is something I look forward to every day because I know it’s going to make me better and I enjoy seeing my coaches and teammates there.
As Hojnacki noted, burnout can become an issue for many swimmers. Walker only intensified her efforts in recent years by dedicating her time to swimming each summer instead of attending camp.
“She is doing what is required to be elite in the sport,” Hojnacki said. “She is incredibly consistent and committed with it. That is what has allowed her to be so successful with it.”
He expects her to continue to flourish at North Carolina, which is known for swimming excellence. “I think a school like the University of North Carolina is going to give her that next step in terms of quality of training and resources,” he said.
Walker excelled academically every year at Dobbs Ferry. She chose North Carolina over Yale and Princeton after making an official visit to Chapel Hill early last year.
“I got to see what practices and my everyday life would be like,” she said. “I’m super excited.”
There is no telling how far her talent and drive can take her. The fun will be in finding out.
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