For Texas junior Melaine Walker, running has always come easy; maybe too easy. As a youngster in Kingston, Jamaica, Walker became a star. While at St. Jago High School, Walker set the junior national record in the 400-meter hurdles and also won that event at the Penn Relays twice. But, because she could win the events so easily, it was hard for her to understand what she needed to do in order to maximize her abilities.
"I could win the races by only giving a little bit," said Walker. "So, I got caught up in the glory of it and I wasn't being pushed, so I didn't work as hard as I should have been."
Through her talents on the track, Walker was able to meet Texas' head coach Bev Kearney at the 1997 Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa. At 15, she knew she wanted to run for Texas and for that coach.
"After meeting coach Kearney, I knew that I wanted to go to Texas out of high school," explained Walker. "It was everything to me and I really liked how the athletes performed under her."
Before arriving at UT, Walker spent two years at Essex County College in Newark, N.J., studying and preparing with the hopes of transferring to Texas.
"When I visited Texas, I heard that 97 percent of the female student-athletes that competed and completed their eligibilty graduated with a degree," said Walker, on why Texas was so important to her. "I knew that I needed a degree for the time in my life when I am done with track. I missed out the first time around on going to Texas and I was going to make sure that I didn't miss out the second time."
Walker did as she had set out to do, and along the way, won five national junior college championships and earned 11 junior college All-America honors. But, she was still suffering from the same general problem as an athlete. She wasn't being pushed.
"When I was at Essex, I worked really hard on my academics, but on the track, I still wasn't doing the things I needed to do," added Walker. "During practice, I would think I had done enough work and my coach would just let me stop working. I was still winning races, but I could get away with it at that level."
But, as head coach Bev Kearney explained, there is a major difference between the junior college level and the collegiate level.
"It is such a different environment for her," said Kearney, who has produced 44 All-Americans. "No matter how good you are in J.C., it is still a transition to this level and I think she is starting to figure out exactly what it takes to compete here."
That transition has been a difficult process for Walker. Under Kearney's guidance, she is learning to work, but at first, the hard work didn't appear to be paying off. She ran at a couple of indoor meets, but didn't win a race, which was a new experience for her. Then, at the Tyson Invitational on Feb. 12, Walker hit, what she called, the bottom.
"In my life, I never ran as slow as I did at the Arkansas meet," said Walker. "I was frustrated with my performance and I just told myself that I had to get it together."
So, Walker went to work. She worked harder than she ever had before. She hit the weights, got her treatments and the aggressive attitude that she ran with when she was in high school returned.
Now, the work is paying off. On the first day of the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships, Walker had her best day as a Longhorn after running three personal bests in qualifying for the finals in the 60 meters, the 200 meters and the 60-meter hurdles. She ran a personal-best 7.54 in the prelims of the 60 meters and then clocked a 7.46 in the semis to advance to the final. She went on to post a personal-best 24.12 in the 200 meters and a provisional-qualifying personal-best 8.26 in the 60-meter hurdles.
"I realized that I couldn't give a little and get a lot at this level," explained Walker. "I was mad at myself after the Arkansas meet and I just wanted to come back and have the kind of meet I know I can have."
"I know I'm not quite where I want to be," added Walker, "but, I felt that feeling I used to have when I was winning races. Right now, I'm focused and confident that I can come out on Saturday and run fast, and that is what I plan to do."
For the swift hurdler out of Jamaica, the ease of victory turned into complacence, but things have turned for the better, and the talent that earned her the accolades in high school and the All-America honors in junior college are now being put together with a work ethic that is going to make her presence known throughout the Big 12 and eventually the country.