Athlete of the Year: Harwell making waves at early age

Walker Harwell tried all the stick-and-ball sports. But in the end, he was meant to be in the water, not on dry land.

Still, it was that same competitive-sports spirit that has led the rising sophomore at Socastee High to be one of the top high school and club swimmers in the state – and to earn the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Year award for Boys Swimming.

“I took swimming lessons when I was 4 and I liked it so much I started swimming competitive when I was 5,” Harwell said. “I played baseball, basketball and even some football, but I’ve always felt swimming was the best sport for me to excel.”

He was right. After rapidly climbing the ranks of the junior circuit as a member of the Coastal Aquatic Club, Harwell finds himself competing for state championships in both high school and club swimming.

“Every year I seemed to be getting better and better, so it was really exciting to see all the hard work paying off,” he said. “Winning at states felt really good because I had never done it before.”

Harwell scored his first Class AAA individual state title in the fall, winning the 100 breaststroke, his best event. He also finished sixth in the 200 freestyle and helped a pair of the Braves’ relay teams to top-10 showings.

“I really wanted to see what it was like to get on top of the podium, and it felt great,” said Harwell, who had a third- and two fourth-place finishes as a seventh and eighth grader. “It gave me the confidence that I can do anything I set my mind on.”

Along with hard work, which has been the key to Harwell’s success. He works out 11 times a week during the summer, getting up at 5:15 a.m. to hit the pool for a 2 1/2-hour workout, followed by another 2 1/2-hour evening session and strength training in between.

But Harwell knows that’s what it takes to reach his short- and long-term goals. The former, to break the state record in the breaststroke. The latter, to swim his way through college. Even farther down the road could be a shot at Olympic glory for Harwell.

Good thing he decided to put down the sticks and balls and jump in the pool.

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