EAST MANATEE -- When Ryan Walker was a freshman at Braden River, his dream was to play football for the Pirates young emerging program.
In the summer of 2012, while watching how the American swimmers performed in the Olympics, he decided to make a life change.
Walker hasn't looked back.
At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds with a muscular frame, the junior seems suited for the football field. But his love and passion is for the water.
He realized he couldn't do both sports because of the injury risk and gave up football after his freshman year.
Walker qualified in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles for Saturday's Class 3A state swim meet in Stuart. He will also be swimming for the Pirates' 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams.
"With swimming, you can get everything you work for yourself, and you don't have to rely on your team to come through for you. It's a sport where what you put into it you get; that's what I like about it," Walker said.
Walker didn't start swimming competitively until his freshman year of high school, which he reasoned
made him better suited for the sprints. He is seeded sixth in the 50 freestyle and seventh in the 100 free. The Pirates' freestyle relay team is seeded second.
"From starting late, I didn't have much of a base for endurance, but I could swim there and back pretty quickly. Being tall helps me in the short distances. I am usually one of the biggest swimmers at the meets," Walker said. "In the fifty you just go all out and don't have to worry about endurance. It's fun. My favorite event is probably 100 breaststroke because it feels the best and doesn't hurt as bad."
One of the things Walker likes about the 50 free, which he calls his best event, is that so many things can happen. It's a reason he is confident he could get first place at states even though five swimmers turned in better times at region.
"The 50 is pretty much anyone's race because anything can go wrong. If you slip on the turn or if you have a bad start, things can change quickly because it comes down to milliseconds. I am hoping to get into the top three in the 50 and top eight in the 100. Our school hasn't had a ton of swimming success and this is our first relay team going to state, so I am glad to be part of it."
Paige Lewandrowski will lead the Braden River girls. The sophomore is the sixth seed in the 200 freestyle and 11th in the 500 free.
Ranch duo seeded first
The Lakewood Ranch boys will have two top seeds at the 3A state meet in Luke Hanner and Daniel Erlenmeyer. Hanner recorded a time of 1 minute, 41.32 seconds in the 200 freestyle, and Erlenmeyer was clocked in at 4:39.34 in the 500 freestyle.
Hanner is seeded fourth in the 100 butterfly, and Erlenmeyer is the fourth seed in the 200 freestyle.
Madison Jean leads the Lakewood Ranch girls as the No. 2 seed in the 100 butterfly, and Courtney Chapin is a fourth seed in the 100 backstroke and sixth in 50 free. The Mustang girls are seeded second in the 400 freestyle relay.
First year Lakewood Ranch head coach Guy Bergeron, who coached swimming in Canada for more than three decades, feels good about his team.
"Luke is very dedicated and a very strong swimmer. He lives in Parrish and travels every day to St. Petersburg, sometimes twice a day, to train," Bergeron said. "Daniel has a great feel for the water and looks effortless as he flows and glides. It's like watching Tiger Woods hit the ball without any effort."