It doesn’t always work out this way, but it’s pretty cool when it does. At long last, Walker Fisher has accomplished a career long goal in his last opportunity to make it happen. The realization is starting to set in for the product of Ashland-Greenwood High School. On a memorable day (Feb. 16, 2019), Fisher tweeted, “Your boy is a National Qualifier! Praise God. I finally made it, my season continues.”
A year after coming up agonizingly short of a berth to the national championships, Fisher has indeed ‘made it.’
Says Fisher, “I didn’t get the big exciting celebration that a lot of the guys get as soon as they win because there was a chance I would have to wrestle someone else for true second place (in the GPAC). I was actually rooting for a Morningside guy. I had looked away and Coach (Levi) Calhoun tapped me on the shoulder and was like, ‘Hey, hey, he’s about to pin him.’ As soon as I looked over the pin happened and I knew I was for sure going (to nationals). It was a cool experience. I shook Calhoun’s hand and gave him a hug.”
It was a well-earned hug for Fisher, who has experienced a lot in the moments that have led up to him qualifying for the 2019 NAIA Wrestling National Championships. The 174-pounder has been an underdog through much of his high school and collegiate careers. He never placed at the state championships as a Nebraska prep and he is sometimes overshadowed within his own weight class by star teammate Deandre Chery.
But Fisher’s persistence and resilience over four years has not been lost on Calhoun, who came to Concordia as an assistant at the same time Fisher entered the program as a student-athlete. There have been highs, lows, injuries, frustrations, championships and long hours in the room.
“It was really cool,” Calhoun said of sharing in Fisher’s joy at the GPAC championships in Orange City, Iowa. “He was so close last year and I know how devastated he was that he didn’t make it. He’s worked so hard and struggled through injuries. As a coach when you see a kid who accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish, there’s no better feeling than that.”
While Fisher came through with two clutch wins at the GPAC tournament to help put himself through to the national tournament, his senior season did not all go exactly according to plan. A shoulder injury has kept him out of several tournaments and duals throughout the 2018-19 campaign. On the plus side, Fisher got to ride off into the sunset with a victory in the final home appearance of his career.
It felt like the proper sendoff for Fisher, someone who exudes confidence. But yet, he’s been knocked down enough to be humbled and appreciative of what opportunities have emerged in the present day. He’s comfortable in his role as the underdog.
“It’s a testament to how hard I’ve worked,” Fisher said of his exceptional progress since freshman year. “Coming in I was definitely an underdog. I got beat up a lot my freshman year by a lot of the starters. Even as a sophomore I didn’t realistically think I’d be starting. Some things fell through and it worked out. I’ve just been building up from there to get to this ultimate goal.”
Fisher will forever be a link to a tremendous era in Concordia wrestling history. Fisher arrived in Seward two years after a historic class of recruits that included Ken Burkhardt Jr., Kodie Cole, the transcendent Ceron Francisco, Dmitri Smith (current graduate assistant) and others. Fisher has been a member of teams that have won GPAC championships in three of his four seasons and has been around for three different head coaches.
Through it all, Fisher has remained focused. He’s watched as those aforementioned names were showered with praise. He even traveled to the 2018 national championships as a spectator. It wasn’t easy for him to watch his teammates and some opponents that he had beaten throughout the course of the season. It’s made him stronger.
“Oh man, wrestling is definitely a sport that will teach you a lot of things,” Fisher said. “In terms of work ethic and every aspect of life, it’s made me a hard worker. I have a higher GPA now than I had in high school. Wrestling has definitely challenged my faith. It’s brought me a lot closer to God. It’s taught me a lot of things.”
A public health and fitness major, Fisher has provided a strong leadership presence for a team that has bounced back nicely this winter. Not only did the Bulldogs share the GPAC dual title, they bumped their number of national qualifiers up from three to five as compared to a year ago. A second team All-GPAC honoree, Fisher has made a big difference beyond the numbers. He’s served as a bridge while Concordia has transitioned through coaching changes in recent seasons.
“Walker has been one of those constants,” Calhoun said. “Nothing has changed with him. He’s always the guy who comes in and gets the work done. It’s nice to have a presence like that, especially as a senior in my first year. Walker is one of those guys who I can turn to and make sure guys are doing the right things and holding each other accountable. He’s been a blessing to me and our program.”
Sure it’s cliché to play up the underdog story, but Fisher will try to use it to his advantage this week in Des Moines. He’ll carry a chip on his shoulder knowing that few people expect him to reach the podium. At this point, no one really knows what will happen, but Fisher is certain to give it everything he’s got.
“I qualified for state twice but I never was a state medalist,” Fisher said. “That’s a big part of the reason I continued wrestling. I thought I was good enough to be a state medalist and I fell short. I felt like I had some unfinished business.”
Added Fisher, “Now I have one more goal: getting on the podium.”