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Walquist retraces Concordia memories, meets and relationships

By Jacob Knabel on Aug. 11, 2022 in Cross Country

Concordia is the place where he persevered emotionally while his mom fought breast cancer, the place where he met his wife, the place he didn’t want to come to because his sisters had been to first and the place where he thrived while immersed in competition and camaraderie. There’s no doubt, Andrew Walquist is an all-time great when it comes to the totality of what it means to be a Bulldog student-athlete. Back in a 2014 interview regarding past mountaintop moments for Concordia Cross Country, Dr. Kregg Einspahr included Walquist amongst a group of runners who were more than just runners.

Said Einspahr, “It’s clear that they were outstanding individuals apart from simply being runners. They are great representatives of Concordia.”

The scrawny kid from Albuquerque, N.M., began his collegiate career in 2002 while embarking on a journey that led to conference championship glory, All-America awards, recognition as Concordia Senior Athlete of the Year and winning of the A.O. Duer Award for his exceptional scholarship, character and citizenship. Not only that, Walquist was announced as a member of the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2022 back in mid-July.

But it’s not the accolades that are engrained in Walquist’s mind, although the 11 All-America awards and eight GPAC titles (combined in cross country and track) make up quite an impressive resume. That time from 2002 through 2006 represented the good ole days when a group of close-knit friends shared in the suffering of long mileage treks. On occasion, those lengthy runs included hopping on a train and catching a ride for a mile or so – just don’t tell Coach Einspahr.

Says Walquist, “I now realize I took for granted how fun it was to be around people who knew how to push you and encourage you. For track and cross country, you’re out on long runs. You’re going for five- to 12-mile runs so you get to know each other quite well. There was a group of guys I really got to know. I just remember the friendships that were formed and forged during that time. I look back at that and I really value the community of it. The races pale in importance in comparison to the relationships.”

Walquist also discussed the harsh winters in the days prior to the indoor Fieldhouse. One might say that it built toughness having to shovel off the outdoor track and train in the face of sub-freezing temperatures. That never seemed to deter Walquist, always a fervent competitor. Admittedly, he wasn’t necessarily the obsessive runner who absolutely had to log a certain number of miles every day. A little relaxation here and there seemed to provide the refresher he needed to be at his best.

Walquist pulled off the rare feat of seizing back-to-back individual GPAC cross country titles (2003 and 2004) and then back-to-back GPAC Indoor Track & Field Runner of the Year awards (2005 and 2006). At the time, Einspahr would marvel at Walquist’s ability to quickly recover from one race and run the next one. Of course his competitive spirit was again on display. Walquist once won three GPAC track events on the same day.

Said Einspahr afterwards, “Andrew had a day to remember. For him to win three distance events in the span of four hours or so and set a new meet record in his third and final race is amazing. That kind of performance doesn’t come around too often.”

Just a sophomore entering the 2003 GPAC Cross Country Championships, Walquist did not even view himself as a conference title contender. This was an early sign that he could rise to the occasion and be the champion he became. “’03 was surprising,” Walquist said. “I wasn’t expecting, nor was I expected, to do that. That was right when I was starting to hit my stride. Coach tapered me off at the right time. I would always go out and run my best race and let the chips fall where they may. That was a big surprise. The second year I thought if I did it once, I could probably do it again. To be able to win as a team was even better.”

By that point, Walquist had surely felt his decision to choose Concordia had been validated. It wasn’t the championships that made him most content. It was really the relationships. As a freshman, Walquist found out that his mother’s breast cancer had returned. The circumstances would have made it understandable if he had packed up his things and scurried back to New Mexico. Fortunately, Walquist found the support he needed while doing his best to lift up his mother from afar.

“The hardest thing for me my freshman year was when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time and having to be away from home,” Walquist said. “That first year of college was a challenge not being able to help my mom. I was there for her first round going through breast cancer and chemo and all that. Then I was gone for the second one. It made the adjustment a little hard, but it was great to have a new network of support to pray for me and pray for my family. God definitely had that in mind. He knew what was going to be happening with my mom and He put me in a good environment to be able to weather that storm.”

The hardships his mother endured and the experiences of seeing his peers suffer athletic injuries convinced Walquist to seek a life of service. As a near 4.0 biology student, Walquist followed a physical therapy track that has put currently placed him in The Woodlands, Texas, (near Houston) as a Clinic Director. He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Creighton University and also ventured to Arizona as part of his career. Walquist has been a PT professional for roughly 13 years.

Einspahr had a hand in Walquist’s academic and professional pursuits. Walquist had Einspahr for a class and saw his coach virtually every day. If there’s one thing Walquist would want to emulate that Einspahr always showed, it would be his care for people on a personal level. Like many athletes who came to Concordia, Walquist deeply respected Einspahr, someone who competed in the Olympic Trials during his own athletic career.

“He had such a pedigree even before I went there,” Walquist said. “He knew how to develop good runners. What struck me the most was that he really, really cared about his athletes and he really cared about the program. You could see his passion come out. I think his passion led us all to respect him more and compete better.”

The four years at Concordia showed Walquist that the institution was a lot more than just some place surrounded by corn fields and the smell of the Milford cows (as Walquist mentioned). His most recent saunter around campus came in 2015 when he returned to Seward to be the best man in teammate Kyle Johnson’s wedding. It’s about time for him to breathe that fresh farm air in once again. The memories run deep for Walquist, who noted, “The highlight of my Concordia experience was finding a phenomenal bride.”

As far as his Hall of Fame selection, Walquist said, “After reflecting on it a little more deeply, I think it’s about inspiring future generations of people. If there’s a way I can maybe help motivate others or give them something to push for, that’s great. I felt honored and also not sure how to feel. I’m going to have a blast going back to Seward and seeing the campus and some of the professors I had.”