Having outgrown his competition in the B.C. Interior, teenager Patrick Walker moved with his family from Kelowna to the Lower Mainland following the 2008 tennis season.
More than six years later, at age 20, Walker is embracing the game like never before.
Currently the ninth-ranked male player in B.C. and 29th in Canada, Walker was back in his hometown this week competing in the Kelowna Futures Tournament.
After winning his first two qualifying matches in the intense Kelowna heat, Walker fell just one step short of reaching the main draw when he lost on Monday to fellow Canadian Kyryll Kryvchun.
Tennis aside, Walker was happy to be back in Kelowna for the first time since he was 14.
“It’s been very nostalgic, I have to say,” said Walker. “We’ve been driving around, my old school, my old neighbourhood. It’s nice to see some new courts (Parkinson) here, and I’m glad to see the indoor facility is still here.
“I’m happy…it could be a little less hot though,” he added with a laugh.
Born and raised in Kelowna, Walker began turning heads in the local tennis community at the tender age of seven.
One of his first coaches was local pro Johnny Vesterinen who worked with the young prodigy in the early days at the Mission Tennis Club.
“When I first saw him play, I thought we have to move Patrick up with the 10 to 12 group,” said Vesterinen. “Then he was too good for those kids, so I moved him up to play in the teen group. He loved the challenge and was a natural. It was amazing to watch.
“To see him still playing today with passion and having success, I’m so pleased about that,” he added.
With Vesterinen, Kerry Bourdon, Joachim Nierfeld and his dad, Randy Walker, among those providing guidance along the way, Walker went on to dominate youth tennis, winning hundreds of matches and dozens of events on a provincial level.
A member of Team B.C. for six years, Walker captured more than 60 tournament titles as a youth and junior player, including provincial championships at the U16 and U18 levels.
Now, at 20, Walker is competing in the men’s open division where the depth is far greater and where virtually nothing comes easy.
Thankfully, Walker has grown considerably over the last few years and at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds is well equipped to compete in what has evolved into a big man’s sport.
Walker has, not surprisingly, also grown mentally.
“I feel like I have more self motivation now,” Walker said. “I remember when I was a kid I needed a push, I didn’t have a lot of emotional control, the losses would get to me a bit more.
“But now I enjoy the ups a lot more and the lows don’t affect me as much, so it’s just fun. That keeps me going, makes me want to play.”
The early years meant not only thousands of hours of commitment from Patrick, but from his parents, Randy Walker and Anne Veilleux.
To see their son still playing the game with both success and joy is what’s most satisfying
“We’re delighted, we invested his childhood, a fairly substantial amount of money and time and certainly our emotions to get to this point,” Randy Walker said. “One of the things I’m grateful for is that he’s grown, because this is a tall man’s game now.
“I’m also pleased with his desire to play and succeed, it’s greater than it ever was, he’s pushing his own car along the road and we’re happy about that.”
While tennis occupies much of Walker’s time from late spring to fall, his winters are pretty much consumed by his education. He’ll be heading into his third year at Simon Fraser University where he is majoring in bio-medical physiology.
As for tennis, just like the early days when he was winning matches in convincing style, Walker’s goal remains the same—to become a full-time professional.
But Walker doesn’t plan to put too much pressure on himself, choosing instead to simply enjoy the ride.
“I know I want to play pro but I wouldn’t say I have specific goals right now,” he said. “I try and put myself in the present. Going to school in the winter, I have to take that into consideration as well. I’m really enjoying the sport a lot now so we’ll just see how it goes and where it takes me.”
After finishing up play in Kelowna, Walker headed back to the coast where he’ll be competing this week in the Burnaby Open.