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Colt Walker: Comeback from major injury

For an athlete who has never wished to be done with gymnastics, an injury last year almost made the decision for him.

September 7, 2023

For an athlete who has never wished to be done with gymnastics, an injury last year almost made the decision for him. Almost. A seemingly miraculous recovery and an impressive result at the National Championships have him eager to push toward the Paris Olympics and even a home Games in Los Angeles.

Competing on the World Stage

A year ago, Walker had the opportunity to compete on the year’s biggest stage alongside Brody Malone, Donnell Whittenburg, Stephen Nedoroscik, and Asher Hong. With Russia out of the competition, the U.S. men felt the weight of having their first real shot at the podium in a decade, and things did not go as planned. Walker described the majority of the team’s approach to the competition as “strangling the opportunity,” and for him specifically, he felt disconnected and wasn’t enjoying gymnastics at all. From his perspective, only Asher Hong was, “having a blast, and [as a result] did the best of anyone on the team.”

He described Hong’s approach to competing as an enigma. “He’s very loud even when he’s up next, he’s screaming for his teammate.” Even though Walker is Asher Hong’s mentor at Stanford University, he said he had a lot to learn from his mentee on the world stage. While Walker still maintains that he doesn’t know how Hong can use so much energy to cheer for others right before he takes the stage, he has learned to have more fun during the competition.

An Injury, A Recovery, and a Return to International Competition

After the 2022 World Championships, Walker took some time off. When he returned to doing basics on floor in December, a bulging disk in his back between L5 and S1 threatened to end his career. The effects of the bulging disk were so bad that on the morning of his MRI, he could not even feel his leg. In turn, he said his back injury became more of a leg injury. As he rehabbed, the thought crossed his mind that the last floor routine he might ever compete was the floor routine at the World Championships where he fell three times. That thought provided motivation that if he was able to compete floor again, he would seize the opportunity, shed his nervous mindset, and put on a show. And put on a show he did. Heading into the National Championships, he said he forgot who he was, and in some ways, that made Day 1 of the Championships less nerve-racking. But the positive results from Day 1 of the competition reminded him that he was able to keep up with the best athletes in the country and on day two, he began to feel the pressure.

Walker would start day two of the National Championships on the high bar which he describes as “not his favorite event” but one where he feels he can help Team USA. A much better routine than night 1 and a significantly higher score would be indicative of his performances to come. As the competition began to wind down, Walker put in his best two performances of the night including a stuck vault and best-executed parallel bar routine of the entire competition. If you looked up at the scoreboard, you would see that Walker placed fourth in the all-around meaning he qualified an automatic National Team spot. What the scoreboard wouldn’t tell you is that he actually had the highest all-around score of the competition using FIG score. [Note: FIG scoring is what is used at all international competitions. The 2023 Xfinity National Championships employed a domestic bonus system, and under that system, Walker placed fourth in the all-around].

Looking forward to 2024 and Beyond

There is no lasting bitterness or animosity from Walker towards the bonus system stating: “If you want to win the game, you have to play the game.” And for Walker, the game is the long game and the 2024 Olympics where no bonus system will be used. While winning the all-around title using FIG scoring didn’t earn him a spot on the World Championships Team this year, it does give him motivation for the future unequivocally stating, “I want to make it to the Olympics.”

Heading into 2024, he will have at least two more opportunities to further his experience by competing on the world stage. He’s looking forward to sharing what he’s learned thus far with the three World Championships rookies – Fred Richard, Khoi Young, and Paul Juda – just as Yul Moldauer helped him last year.

Being an alternate for the World Championships also gives Walker the opportunity to compete at the Pan American Games in South America; he believes competing at a multi-sport Games will help prepare him for the Olympics should he be chosen for that team. These two incredible opportunities will happen back to back making for a very full fall quarter. Chock full of positives from the competitions to come he said of his situation, "there are only three negatives". One, trying to keep up with school; two, all the training on hard surfaces will require a lot of his body for an extended amount of time; and three, missing his girlfriend.

When asked about plans for the future, he said, “It’s not that I don’t have a life plan, it’s that I have seven,” – indicative of the type of solution-focused mind that helps him to be successful at Stanford. While his exact future plan may not be set in stone, one thing is for sure, Walker plans to stick around for as long as his body allows him. And hopefully, that means competing in Los Angeles in 2028.

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