It's nice, said Soldotna High School cross-country ski coach Dan Harbison, when an athlete is not only good at a sport, but also has a strong character.
The athlete Harbison was describing happens to be senior Ryan Walton, one of the top skiers and a team leader on this year's squad.
Of course, a quick survey of his teammates reveals just the type of character Walton is.
"He's a lover, not a fighter," said one.
"He's the team hoodlum," said another.
While those comments may have been intended to make Walton blush in front of a reporter, he does bring a good sense of humor to the team.
Took fifth place at the Region III cross country running meet this year to lead the Stars to a state appearance.
Took 17th at the state meet.
Also participates in skiing and track for Soldotna.
Is the vice president of the student body.
Is the activities chair.
Is a member of Soldotnas robotics team.
"He's great to have around," said teammate Katy Pankoski. "He keeps us in a good mood. He adds character to the team.
"He has really good leadership qualities. If he sees someone floundering, he can stop and help without hurting his own performance."
Walton has had some solid performances so far this season, skiing to a fourth-place finish in the overall standings at the Skyview Invitational two weeks ago, then finishing third overall at the Mat-Su Pursuit last weekend.
Walton said he started skiing while in middle school, though his first season on skis didn't necessarily hint of the great things to come.
"My first time (skiing) was in seventh grade. I had never done it before," Walton said. "It was difficult getting started, but my eighth-grade year, I started doing a lot better."
Walton said he participated in cross country running as an eighth grader -- he figured it would get him into shape for skiing -- and continued with both sports through high school.
He completed his high school cross country running career on a high note, leading the Stars to the state meet and finishing 17th overall at the meet after a fifth-place finish at the Region III meet.
"I was very pleased with how we did," Walton said. "Our goal was to make it to state, which we did. We had a lot of young guys on the team, and it was hard getting them to buckle down and race well, but in the end, we did."
Walton said his biggest influences, athletically, came from the group of upperclassmen that had led Soldotna to state titles in cross country running and region titles in skiing when Walton was a freshman and sophomore.
"They were a really influential group of people with how they did things. They taught me a lot," Walton said.
Walton said he's doing his best to pass on the things he's learned to this year's freshmen and sophomores.
"I don't know if I have a lot of wisdom to pass on -- they're pretty smart guys -- but I help them out whenever I can," Walton said.
Harbison said it's been rewarding to see Walton develop during his high school career.
"I've been able to work with him for four years," Harbison said. "Just watching him grow into a team leader and also refine his skill as a skier -- it's been a fun thing to watch him develop."
Walton also keeps himself plenty busy when he's not on the trails. He's vice president of the student body at SoHi, and serves as the activities chair for the school.
"So I get to organize all the assemblies," Walton said.
Walton is a member of SoHi's robotics team as well, and his mechanical bent has led him to restore a 1957 Willys Jeep pickup truck.
Walton is hoping that one of his passions -- sports or mechanics -- leads to a career. He's pared down his list of colleges for next year and would like to study either athletic training and sports nutrition, or engineering, particularly future fuels.
Walton has plenty on his plate before heading off to college. There's the spring track season, where he runs the 1,600 meters, the 800, the 1,600 relay.
"The 400 and the 800 are my favorite ones," Walton said.
Then there's the summer, which, for the past two years, Walton has devoted to fishing -- or at least taking other people fishing. Walton said he bought a drift boat and has tried his hand at the guiding business for two seasons, starting his own business, Ripplin' Waters.
"I gave it a shot and I broke even," Walton said.
Even before all of that, there's still two months left to the ski season, and Walton is hoping to finish with a bang.
"I'd like to finish in the top 15 at the state meet, and for the team, third or fourth place would be great," Walton said.
"We're hoping that he continues placing in the top positions at the region level meets, and he'll be participating in the Besh Cup. We're hoping he can place in the upper positions there," Harbison said. "It's a pleasure having someone like Ryan on the team that other skiers on the team can use as a role model."
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