WALDOBORO, Maine — Ian Rixon had planned to focus on distance running among his co-curricular activities at Medomak Valley High School.
But a unique physical condition made year-round training for such events problematic — and at times quite painful.
“My ankles are double-jointed,” said Rixon, a senior. “They don’t bother me when I’m walking, but if I’m running a lot it really screws up my legs.”
So rather than endure the shin splints and aching knee caps that have arisen from running 12 months a year, Rixon went in search of another option.
He not only found a satisfying alternative at a slightly slower pace — the pace of the competitive race walker — but Rixon has developed into one of the better high school competitors in that event nationwide.
“I feel like my body was built more for race walking than running,” he said. “I feel like I was born to be a race walker.”
Rixon recently placed second in the mile race walk at the New Balance indoor national championships with a personal-best time for the distance of 7 minutes, 24.02 seconds. He trailed only fellow Mainer Luc Bourget, a junior at Edward Little High School in Auburn.
“I was pretty happy with how I did,” said Rixon, of his effort during the New Balance meet, which held at the New York City Armory. “I lowered by PR by three seconds.”
That Mainers finished first and second in the boys’ race — and EL senior Abby Dunn won the girls’ mile race walk at the same meet — should come as no great surprise.
The Pine Tree State has produced a solid contingent of competitive race walkers for more than two decades, largely under the watchful eye of Tom Eastler, a longtime geology professor at the University of Maine at Farmington who has coached the sport for more than 30 years and was instrumental in introducing race walking to high school track competition in the state in 1990.
Eastler’s son Kevin has been the most successful of the Maine race walkers, competing on the U.S. Olympic Team in both 2004 and 2008.
More recently, Ellsworth High School graduate Ben Shorey has ranked among the top American men in the sport, winning the 2011 U.S. 50-kilometer championship and finishing third at both the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, while Lauren Forgues of Boothbay won the 2011 U.S. 15K women’s title and is a contender for a berth on the national team for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Rixon is not close to that level yet, but the son of Mark Rixon and Krisanne Baker has experienced steady improvement since taking up race walking three years ago.
As a sophomore, he finished eighth in the 1,600-meter race walk at the Class B outdoor state championships.
Last spring, he won the event in 7:28.73, more than a minute faster than his 2010 state meet time.
“I think it was harder training,” said Rixon, who primarily works out by himself but receives coaching guidance from Eastler and Tom Menendez, a Lewiston-area race walking coach. “I really dedicated myself to it. My form became really good and I was determined to do better.”
After winning his first high school state title last spring, Rixon went on to earn All-American status with a third-place finish in the mile race walk at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.
Rixon has continued to run cross country in the fall for Medomak Valley, but he also found time last Oct. 9 to be crowned the junior champion of the USA Track and Field One-Hour Race Walk Championships after covering 10,531 meters (6.5 miles) during the one-hour time limit.
Rixon turned to swimming this winter to help prepare for what was to be several race walking events around New England.
“They say running is great cross training for race walking, but not for me,” said Rixon. “That’s why I swim during the winter.”
But Rixon’s winter schedule was limited by illness to just one meet, the Dartmouth (N.H.) Relays in early January, where he placed second in the men’s college/open mile race walk.
Rixon described himself as “about a six” healthwise on a scale of one to 10 when he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals earlier this month, and he now is looking forward to his final season of high school competition, which will begin formally next Monday with the start of spring track and field practices.
“I want to try to go undefeated this year,” said Rixon, who placed third at last year’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships before rebounding to win his specialty at the state meet.
Rixon is expected to study animation and continue his race walking career beginning next fall at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, after accepting a partial athletic scholarship from the NAIA school.
“Ian is a great addition to our program,” said Ashford assistant men’s track and field coach Tyson Graham. “He has proven himself to be one of the best seniors in the nation in race walk. Maine and New York are always areas we look to recruit quality race walkers since the event is contested in high school competition in those states.”
Rixon will join an Ashford program that places a significant emphasis on race walking within its track and field program.
“We had two All-Americans this past indoor season in the race walk and also an outdoor All-American last year,” said Graham. “I really believe Ian is capable of All-American status as well, even as a freshman. He has a very strong desire to get better, and that’s a quality that cannot be coached.”