Richmond Hill’s Shaquille Walker has decided to retire from professional running to pursue his ultimate goal of becoming a dentist.
Walker, 24, told Flo Track in a story published last week that “Since I was 14, all I’ve known is Shaquille Walker the runner. At this point in my life I can actually pursue something else at the exact moment that would lead to an ultimate career.”
Walker turned pro in the summer of 2016 a week before the Olympic track and field trials, giving up his final year of eligibility at Brigham Young University.
In his final year at BYU, Walker finished third in the 800 in both the indoor and outdoor NCAA championships. Having been recently married, he headed off to Seattle to train with the Brooks Beasts Track Club, leaving him seven classes shy of his undergraduate degree.
According to Flo Track, Walker’s change of heart came last year after his Brooks Beasts coach had the team read “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” a 2014 book about how to use your time and energy efficiently.
Walker said many on the team decided to pare back other sacrifices to focus on running. His mindset was different.
“I’m just doing this short-term thing for fame and glory and a little bit of money, but all this is a sacrifice to me and my family,” he told Flo Track.
Walker realized that if he continued to train for the 2020 Olympics, it would mean he would be in his 30s before finishing dental school.
Walker was denied a chance to make the Olympic team in 2016 after a controversial decision following his semi-final heat led to his disqualification.
Walker was in second place with about 80 meters to go in the race when Craig Engels of Ole Miss appeared to bump Walker’s feet from behind. Walker ended up in fourth place as Engels tumbled to the track. After Engels and Walker both filed appeals, the rules committee ended up siding against Walker.
A health issue that required surgery impacted Walker’s training in 2017 and he could manage no better than the semi-finals at the U.S. championships last June.
Levi Sybert, Richmond Hill’s track coach, said Walker has been a positive influence on Wildcat athletes for many reasons. Walker was a two-time state champion in the 800 while at Richmond Hill.
“On the outside, everybody is drawn to his success and performances and how amazing they have been,” Sybert said. “That is just the hook with Shaquille though. Once the athletes meet him and feel his personality and genuine love for everybody around him, they are motivated.”
Sybert called Walker “humble, encouraging and determined” and said “Those traits exude from him the moment you meet him, which makes you think as an athlete, I can do this, too. I can treat others right, I can be a competitor, and I can be just like him.”
Sybert said he is excited for Walker’s next chapter in his life.
“I am so thankful that he has reminded me that there is so much talent and possibilities that walk the hallways of RHHS,” he said. “The challenge is to get them out to practice, then let the coaching and inspiring begin.”
Sybert said Walker came out for track as a freshman wanting to run the 100 and 200 to get in shape for football.
“Who knows where the road will take you,” he added. “I don’t think he ever imagined he would have so many doors across the world opened up to him.”