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Former NAIA All-Americans Lee Walburn, Brett Glaser now angling for NCAA DI, DII honors

Lee Walburn and Brett Glaser
Lee Walburn
Brett Glaser
Brett Glaser
Posted at 6:21 PM, May 21, 2024

MISSOULA — Lee Walburn is at peace with a fly rod in his hands. The tranquility of flowing water and the rhythm of casting provide a meditative outlet for the Whitefish native.

It’s a fundamental part of Walburn’s life, nearly as important as the collegiate track and field career that has seen him win two NAIA national decathlon championships at Carroll College and this spring qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships while competing for Washington State.

“There’s something about getting out of your head and out of your own way, and I think fishing does that for me,” Walburn said. “It gets you to beautiful places and you just get to go out in nature in the water and just calm down a little bit, and all the worries of track or competitions or life or any other problems you got going on, it all kind of melts away.

“It’s a good place for me, so whenever I need a mental health reset or things are just feeling a little overwhelming, I just know that’s something that I can do for myself that makes me feel good.”

Walburn fell in love with fishing as a child, sharing the passion with his dad. No matter where life has taken him, he’s always found time to get a line in the water.

While at Carroll, that was Prickly Pear Creek or the Missouri River. There, Walburn introduced then-teammate Brett Glaser to fly fishing.

“Oh goodness, he was awful at first,” Walburn said of Glaser. “He told me he knew how to fly fish, and he didn’t really know how to fly fish.”

Lee Walburn and Brett Glaser
Lee Walburn (background) introduced Brett Glaser to fly fishing when the two were track and field athletes at Carroll College.

Walburn was already on campus in Helena when Glaser, a Glasgow native, joined the Fighting Saints’ track and field program during the 2020-21 school year. To hear Glaser say it, the two have been best friends ever since.

“I knew the guy for 10 minutes and he asked me if I wanted to go do a running workout with him, and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t even know you, but sure, I need friends,’” Glaser recalled. “He’s the best kid, the nicest guy you’ve ever met. And then I think it was maybe a day or two later when he took me fishing and was teaching me how to fly fish.”

Those early fishing trips didn’t bear much fruit for Glaser and even cost Walburn a fly rod. Glaser snapped one in half while learning to cast, a potentially friendship-ending snafu before the two even got to know each other.

In hindsight, both point to that incident as a moment they learned a lot about the other. Walburn was angry but forgiving and understanding, displaying the calm, composed demeanor that helped him win his two NAIA championships.

Glaser was upset with himself but immediately bought Walburn a replacement rod, showing his good heart and how he values accountability even though he’s “such a goob,” according to Walburn.

Lee Walburn and Brett Glaser
Brett Glaser and Lee Walburn (facing) embrace during a competition when the two were track and field teammates at Carroll College.

Their friendship blossomed, and the duo trained and competed side by side at Carroll for the next two years. Glaser placed second behind Walburn in the decathlon at the Frontier Conference outdoor championships in 2021 and 2022, as Walburn went on to win NAIA national titles.

Walburn transferred to Washington State prior to the 2023 NAIA outdoor track and field season. Glaser capitalized, winning the Frontier Conference decathlon championship last spring and placing second at nationals.

“He always pushed me every time, whether it be a workout, a meet, no matter what,” Glaser said. “He really helped me out a lot to just be a better multi, not just like on the track but also just kind of helped me be a better person in general, as well.

“It never felt like I was competing against him. We both wanted each other to do our absolute best, so whether it was conference or nationals, I’ve never really cared if he was better than me at one event or the other because overall I just wanted him to succeed.”

Walburn continues to find success at Washington State and is the 15th-ranked decathlete in NCAA Division I track and field, but it wasn’t an easy transition moving to major college athletics from the NAIA.

Walburn, who actually wanted to play basketball in college and didn’t even like track in high school, fell in love with the multi events under the tutelage of Carroll coach Harry Clark. Even though he left the Saints as a two-time NAIA champion, Walburn wasn’t completely prepared for the challenges posed at Washington State.

Lee Walburn
Whitefish native Lee Walburn, a senior at Washington State, has qualified for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the decathlon.

“They take it so much more seriously here,” he said. “It’s your job. In NAIA, I could get away with fishing two or three times a week. I’d go to Prickly Pear, I’d go to the Missouri. I got my full weekends off.

“Here, it was just the expectation was like you have practices on Saturdays. It’s Monday through Saturday, and your off days are not truly off days. They’re … recovery days and making sure you’re doing something, so I think that was kind of a big (difference) for me. I didn’t get to do quite as much fishing as I would like.”

During his first year, Walburn battled a bit of impostor syndrome and his confidence waned. But as he settled in, he started seeing his work pay off with results at big competitions — a fifth-place finish at the 2023 Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays followed by a third-place finish at the Mt. SAC Relays.

He gained his confidence back and now believes he can go toe to toe with the top competitors in the country. This season, he took second at the Texas Relays, despite fighting through a groin injury on Day 2. He scored 7,694 points, qualifying him for the NCAA DI championships June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore.

“If I know Lee, he’s going to get All-American if it kills him, so I expect him to just compete at his absolute highest level,” Glaser said. “He’s given everything to track and field. He’s going to make sure he gets everything out of it. I know nothing’s going to stop him.”

Glaser, too, is excelling this spring after transferring to NCAA Division II Black Hills State in Spearfish, S.D. He’s ranked 14th in the division after breaking the 7K barrier with 7,023 points at the Franson Last Chance meet earlier this month.

He’s set to compete at the NCAA DII championships this Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Emporia, Kansas.

Brett Glaser
Glasgow native Brett Glaser, a graduate student at Black Hills State, is set to compete in the decathlon at the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships.

“I just want him to keep pushing the 7K (point barrier) and pushing up into the high 7s as much as he can do,” Walburn said. “This could be his last competition, so I hope he just enjoys it, doesn’t put too much pressure on himself, just has fun. It seems like he’s just been killing it all year, and I think he’s going to do great.”

These championship meets will be the final collegiate competitions for both. Glaser will soon have his master’s of business administration and has started interviewing for jobs.

Walburn hopes to continue competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials, U.S. Indoor Championships and some world-renowned meets in Europe. He already graduated with a humanities degree.

But he didn’t walk in the ceremony.

“I did go fishing that day,” he said.