NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Simone Childs-Walker is one of the top runners in Division III athletics, but that’s by no stretch her only talent.
“If you met her, she probably wouldn’t even mention she runs track,” her coach Donna Ricks jokes.
The name Childs-Walker is definitely recognizable in the world of women’s track (both indoor and outdoor) as well as cross country. What impresses, even more than her double-digit number of NCAA Championship appearances, is her quick success and ability to balance everything that comes with it.
Simone Childs-Walker represents one of the best examples of a student-athlete. With a 3.99 GPA in philosophy at Carleton College, her liberal arts persona impressively demonstrates her range. She not only does what she loves, but she does it to the best of her ability. Ricks said she’s “such a good role model by example.”
And Childs-Walker has certainly led her teammates by example. She’s been named a First-Team Academic All-American. She’s a 10-time All-American between indoor and outdoor track and cross-country. She’s been to Nationals each season she has run.
Childs-Walker currently ranks 10th in the 5,000-meter distance with a time of 17:15.91, which she ran at Iowa State in early February. In the midst of the quickly approaching 2012 NCAA Division III National Indoor Track and Field Championships, Childs-Walker still seems cautious with an undertone of excitement, “I’m not expecting anything unusual to happen, but at the same time I’m hoping for it.”
Childs-Walker doesn’t see herself as entitled to win, but that doesn’t mean she wants anything less than her best. “I try to make my most important goal to perform the best that I possibly can…and not have that goal depend on the people around me,” she explains.
However, running isn’t the only part of her life she’s passionate about. She’s a teaching assistant at a local high school for an ethics class. She’s been accepted to a couple of medical schools. She’s interested in the environment and works with environmental and food justice groups on Carleton’s campus.
Childs-Walker’s concerns reach beyond cold-cut academics and running, “My biggest interest outside of that is environmentalism and sustainability, in particular sustainable agriculture. While I’ve been at Carleton, I’ve lived for two years at Farm House, which is our sustainability themed interest house. And I’ve done a lot with the environmental justice groups on campus and worked on the Carleton farm here.”
She even deferred college for a year to broaden her horizons.
“I wanted to take that year off to travel and really explore the world a little bit, and Carleton was really supportive of that. And I think it’s made my time here at Carleton much more meaningful to have taken that year off,” noted Childs-Walker.
Within the multiple facets of Childs-Walker’s daily life, running does not out shine the others. Too often stories appear in the headlines about Division I athletes getting suspended for part of the season due to poor grades. But Childs-Walker embodies a well-rounded student…a student who just so happens to run really fast.
Her ability to balance her loves is an impressive feat. As she says, “There’s just that constant dedication and constant awareness that’s so gratifying, but can be exhausting at the same time. Balancing that with the demands of school… it can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge I enjoy in a way.”
Childs-Walker came to Carleton just having some interest in running cross country, but she wasn’t a top recruit.
“We had very limited contact with her… I mean, not much at all. Then she took a year off from school, and quite honestly, we kind of forgot about her,” says Ricks.
Childs-Walker ran onto the track scene out of nowhere. Ricks states, “I don’t think anyone had any idea that this was something that could happen…She probably ran [the 5k in] 21 minutes on average for her high school.”
Ricks describes Childs-Walker as really stepping into her own as a runner over the years. Her coach attributes her vast improvements from high school to college as nothing short of her determination to work hard.
“She’s always been a very disciplined individual, and that’s very obvious, and that just carried into her running,” says Ricks.
And now, as a captain, hoping to win big at Nationals for indoor, everyone knows the impact she has made. Ricks commends Childs-Walker’s dedication, “She takes every opportunity and challenge out there and makes the most of it. And there’s not many people who do that in life. She really does that.”
Many runners see themselves on the decline once they hit college, but Childs-Walker found that her love for running flourished during her time at Carleton. Ricks sees Childs-Walker as a strong leader who continues to show there is always room for improvement: “Unfortunately, some distant runners or sprinters come to college thinking they peaked, but she’s shown them that it’s wide open.”
Even Childs-Walker seemed skeptical of her own interest in track at first: “I came into college expecting to prefer cross country, but I found that I love them both.”
Ricks relates a discussion with Childs-Walker before track started, saying, “She’d give track a try her freshman year, but she couldn’t promise me she’d be out for all four years.”
And four years later, Childs-Walker has a much different motto: “My take on it in college has been that I love running, so I will run wherever they tell me.”
Track offers her another outlet to run, in a completely different way than her high school track program. She says that the difference was in “the structure of track here rather than the structure of track in high school.”
Ricks raves about Childs-Walker’s athletic ability. “She’s just a very exciting individual to watch race…very structured, very smart.” She continues, “I couldn’t ask for anything more from her. And she’s just a joy to coach.”
Ricks also praises Childs-Walker strong leadership skills, “She’s helped other people realize their potential and the possibilities that are there.” Yet, she insists Childs-Walker isn’t pushy, “She isn’t extremely outspoken, but when she speaks, people really listen.”
Ricks also points out Childs-Walker’s dedication, “I always think distant runners are some of the most disciplined athletes you’ll ever come across. And that seems to go hand in hand with her academics.”
By doing her best at every practice and race, Childs-Walker reminds us all of the dedication necessary to be a successful student-athlete.
Her versatility illustrates her skills in balancing athletics and her life outside of running. Ricks observes over her four years, “She really wants to contribute to society… She feels like she needs to make the most of it.”
When Childs-Walker talks about her interests in health and the environment, she says they mix together with her love for running perfectly, “I see that as an integral part of my lifestyle…kind of joined with athletics.”
Childs-Walker recognized her diverse interests and found a college where she works hard to balance these aspects and grow as a person. She’s not only one of the top runners for her event; she demonstrates dedication in other areas as well.
Despite her obvious talent, Childs-Walker doesn’t want to take the credit for her success. “It’s not possible to perform at this level and to do school at the same time without the kind of support you get at a place like Carleton,” she states.
“I’m really grateful for my coaches and really grateful for the program here and my family and all the support I’ve gotten from all of those people and my teammates as well,” Childs-Walker adds.
Hearing Childs-Walker and her coach discuss not only her love for running but also her passions beyond athletics paints an exciting picture for the NCAA Division III National Indoor Track and Field Championships hosted at Grinnell College on March 9-10. The chance to watch these amazing people do their best is a treat itself, but Simone Childs-Walker’s story stands as a reminder that there is much more to these men and women than sports. These individuals will continue to develop beyond their track and field events to impact the world outside athletics.