Best In State: An Interview with Grapevine's Walker St. John
Earlier this summer, Grapevine High School cross country runner Walker St. John had the honor of being named as the best Texas Boy's Cross Country Athlete of the Year by USA Today. The honor came after an extremely successful junior season with both Grapevine cross country and Grapevine Track. VYPEDFW had the opportunity to catch up with St. John this month to discuss his accomplishments as well as his goals for the upcoming season.
The incoming senior had one of the best seasons that any runner could hope to have in the 2020-21 season. St. John not only won gold in individual and team cross country at the UIL Cross Country Championships in November, but he also took the top sport in the 5A 1600-meter race during the UIL Track and Field State Meet in May. Notably, St. John lost a shoe during his 5A 1600-meter state championship race before going on to take gold!
After such a successful season, fans must be wondering what the secret was that kept St. John at peak performance. "Sacrifices," St. John told VYPE. "I had to forego staying up late and eating junk food for the payoff of running and primarily racing well." Aside from sacrificing the typical teenager behavior, St. John gave a tremendous amount of credit to his coach. "I'm also very fortunate to have Coach Miller who is educated and well seasoned in coaching athletes and teams," noted St. John. "In no way is my success completely by my own hands I would not be the runner I am today without [Coach Miller]."
In discussing his own success, St. John went on to describe his teams' successes which were much of the same as his individual successes. "Coach Miller is invaluable in training us and even teaching a few of us during our sophomore year. We all have similar mentalities regarding delayed gratification and racing well when it matters most."
Making memories with a team is always extremely special. Many athletes have great memories that they hold onto throughout their careers and life. For St. John, his favorite memory comes from his sophomore year. "Our team was very young and we got second at State despite being ranked 5th or 6th going into it. We were the underdogs all year and- while some of us had good individual races- we never performed well as a team until the state meet; that made it special."
A Look Ahead
Most people might think it's hard to stay focused for a young person, but for St. John, he uses his goals as a reminder to keep pushing towards his dreams. "I stay focused in the off-season by keeping my goals in my mind and reminding myself that delayed gratification always pays off," said the state champion. "I am also very grateful that I have a team of similar pace ranges to train with. We all have common goals."
Staying focused on his goals, St. John is ready for the upcoming school year with a great mindset. "My mindset this year is to keep the ball rolling with a lot of great confidence from last year," said St. John. "My goals this year are to go undefeated for the regular season, to win Nike Cross Regionals, and to finish Top 5 individuals at Nike Cross Nationals. I would also like to break my PR in the 5K," said St. John.
As far as an overall team goal? St. John said his team is trying to go undefeated for the regular season as well as win Nike Cross Regionals and finish top 5 teams and Nike Cross Nationals. "We also have a goal of our top 5 being under 15:30 in the 5K," added St. John.
Anyone could imagine that being named the best in the state in anything is a top honor. With such high praises, anyone would be absolutely humbled. St. John instantly thought of all of his hard work that led to such an accomplishment. "Cross country and distance running as a sport rewards time invested more than any other," said St. John. "Because of that, the upperclassmen dominate year after year. It can seem like the winners come out of nowhere, but in reality, it is the accumulation of their daily small improvements."
St. John went on to quote Jacob Riis. "When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much sa a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."
So, what's in store?
Although St. John is currently uncommitted, the idea of running in college isn't something that is far from his mind. "I am looking for a program that has extremely high goals and a progression-oriented mindset," said St. John. "I also want a very good college education in STEM with a strong alumni network," he added as he is hoping to major in STEM. "My current favorites are some kind of physics or applied mathematics.
For now, he's focused on his upcoming senior year. "I am looking forward to having travel meets and getting to compete against more teams this season," St. John said. "Last year with COVID, we didn't travel at all and raced against largely the same teams all year, so some variety this year will be nice."
Who is your favorite sports team?
"My favorite sports team is our club team Naughty Boys Track Club (NBTC)."
Who do you look up to as an athlete?
"I look up to Sir Roger Bannister who is the first person to break the 4:00 mile barrier."
If you could go to dinner with one person (dead or alive) who would it be? What would you hope to talk about?
"It would have to be Steve Scott the former American mile record holder. This is because of how similar an experience we've had in our running careers. His coach, Len Miller, is my coach's dad and I feel that we would be able to relate a lot in training styles and running philosophy as a result of this."