David Walters’ Olympic dream began at age 10.
Ten years later Walters is a member of the U.S. Olympic swimming team.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Walters, who grew up in Yorktown and graduated from Tabb High School.
He made the team in his first attempt, finishing fifth in the 200-meter freestyle at the Olympic Trials and guaranteeing himself a trip to Beijing.
“I was actually extremely out of breath,” Walters said of his reaction to finishing fifth. “I took a big breath in and breathed out. The last few years of my life I’d been working for this meet and finally it was like ‘success’.”
Walters, like many who become year-round competitive swimmers, started summer league swimming when he was six. His interest in swimming only increased as he matured.
“He was a typical teen-age boy. He liked to goof off,” Coast Guard Blue Dolphins coach Jack Bierie said. “The talent was always there. The work ethic part was a little bit behind.”
Bierie, who’s been coaching Walters for eight years, has seen Walters develop into the swimmer he thought he could be.
“I felt he was going to be pretty fast,” Bierie said. “Dave has always been a pretty talented swimmer. When he was 15 or 16 he decided he really wanted to be fast and he got serious.”
Walters took his first step toward the Olympics when he made the 2005 national junior team.
“He came back from that really excited and trained even harder,” Bierie said.
From there Walters continued to progress, dropping his times and gaining strength and power.
“At the time, I still had the goals of being an Olympian,” Walters. “There were more options though; I was trying to become a better swimmer to get into a better college.”
It worked. He landed at the University of Texas and hasn’t slowed down in the pool. He qualified for the 2007 World Championships after his freshman year and won a gold medal as part of the 4×200 relay team (Walters swam in the preliminaries).
“I didn’t take that swim for granted,” Walters said. He told himself to move on after winning the gold. He had a new focus in sight – the Olympics.
“We’ve been kind of progressing in that direction since his sophomore year of high school,” Bierie said. “The time drops weren’t unrealistic. His times have been dropping each season.”
As a sophomore, Walters won the 200 freestyle at the NCAA Championship meet. He parlayed that success into his fifth place finish at the Olympic Trials.
And now he’s heading to Beijing.
Walters and his teammates left Friday for Singapore to begin acclimating to the time change. The Olympic swimming team had been practicing in Palo Alto, Calif.
“They’re keeping us really busy,” Walters said. “It’s been one constant movement since the trials.”
His training routine in California included morning and evening training sessions. Last week Walters said he was doing some of his hardest workouts yet.
It’s all in preparation of earning a spot in the finals of the 4×200 relay team. Walters will swim in the preliminaries Aug. 13. He’ll swim again the next day in the finals – if he swims fast enough.
“The top two are [Michael] Phelps and [Peter] Vanderkaay,” Walters said. “So it’s gonna be four guys fighting for two spots.
“I really want to do my best.”
Bierie thinks Walters has faster swims in him.
“I don’t think he swam the race he wanted to swim at finals,” Bierie said of the 200 free at the trials. “He knows he had a better swim in him. He’s only a sophomore in college. He has a couple years to get stronger and do a little bit more work.”
He’s the third youngest swimmer on the squad and he doesn’t lack international experience, but the Games are a totally different event.
“For a majority of the guys it’s their second or third Olympics, so there’s a lot to learn from them,” Walters said. “It can really be nerve-wracking, stepping up and racing for the USA.”
He said swimming at the World Championships gave him an excellent opportunity to gain international experience.
“All the help the better,” Walters said.
He’ll rely on that experience when he swims Aug. 13 in Beijing.