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Many athletes who are looking to continue their careers past the prep level have said deciding where to go to school was a tough, stressful decision.
Mike Walker isn’t one of them.
Walker, who will graduate from Los Alamos High School this spring, had a pretty good idea where he wanted to continue his running career and on Wednesday made it official.
In a ceremony at LAHS Wednesday, Walker signed his National Letter of Intent to participate in cross country with the Fort Lewis Skyhawks.
Fort Lewis is a Division-II school in Colorado and participates in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which has become a hotbed of runners from northern New Mexico.
“It was a good fit,” Walker said of his decision to run for the Skyhawks. “I liked the campus and the atmosphere. I talked to the coach and members of the team. They’re good people. It seemed like the right option.”
Walker, who came into his own as a senior on the Hilltopper squad in 2013, should feel right at home on the Fort Lewis roster. Last season, Fort Lewis featured six runners from New Mexico, including former Rio Rancho runner Preston Charlie and former Sandia standout Zach Chenowith.
Wednesday was the first day high school athletes could sign letters of intent to join Division-I and Division-II colleges.
With his signing, Walker becomes the second in his family to sign to run with a Division-II school in Colorado. His older sister, Holly, ran for the Colorado School of Mines cross country team after she graduated from LAHS in 2010.
While Mike Walker said he did talk to big sis about running in college, he said there were others he consulted with to get more information.
The RMAC is the top overall D-II cross country division in the nation. Fort Lewis competes with powers such as Adams State — the alma mater of both his Hilltopper coaches, Rob and Kathy Hipwood — as well as Western State, Colorado Christian and others.
In 2013, the Skyhawk men finished seventh at the RMAC championships, which were held in Silver City.
Walker said he’s heard good things from the Fort Lewis runners who train under head coach Mark Dutro.
“He’s doing a good job there,” Walker said of Dutro. “The members of the team are happy running for him.”
Walker said he doesn’t have any anxiety about having to up his game from the prep level. He felt training at Los Alamos put him a cut above most high school runners taking that next step to college.
In his senior year, Walker earned a seventh-place finish at the state Class 4A meet. Walker nipped Kevin Wyss from rival school Albuquerque Academy at the finish line, topping Wyss by just .05 seconds.
His finish at the meet helped the Hilltoppers to grab their third consecutive state title, wrenching it away from Academy’s Chargers, the preseason favorites in 4A.
Before he takes off for college, however, Walker is preparing for the upcoming boys track and field season, which officially gets going in early March.
“Having committed, it puts one of the puzzle pieces in place,” Walker said. “Now, I’m sure of one thing.”