WHITEFISH — On May 27, Lee Walburn went from good to elite when he crossed the finish line of the NAIA national track and field meet's men's decathlon's 1,500-meter race.
Headed into that race, Walburn knew he needed to keep pace with Southern Oregon's Joseph Dotson to ensure the victory. Walburn did just that, finishing in stride with Dotson, and while he felt as if he'd done it, a simple gesture from a race volunteer made the moment all the more real.
“The woman who did the start gun brought me the shell of the race, and so that's when I knew, because no one really told me anything. In my head, I thought we did it. And then when she brought me the little shell that was kind of a surreal moment, like, it actually happened,” said Walburn.
Fifteen months ago, Walburn was at an impasse. The COVID-19 pandemic had canceled what would have been his first outdoor track and field season for Carroll College after a successful showing at the 2020 NAIA national indoor track and field meet, and Walburn was forced to return home. Despite not knowing when it would be time to return, Walburn immediately went to work preparing for the next time he'd be competing.
"It's been a long freaking process. I remember, as soon as I got home, I texted coach (Harry Clark) and I said, 'Write me a workout plan for running for the month and tell me what I need to be throwing.' I took all my implements home and I basically was working in the morning, I'd go to work at 5 a.m. at the golf course, get done at 1 p.m. and then usually from like, 1 p.m. to 6-7 p.m., I'd be out of the track running and throwing stuff and just trying to get familiar," said Walburn. "I just tried to do a lot on my own because I knew when we came back we were talking about the national championship that freshman year."
Despite it just being Walburn out on the track, he noted it was the support from his friends and family that carried him to the top of the podium this spring.
"My parents and family and coaches and friends. It's just been a," said Walburn, cutting himself off. "They've been so supportive."
With the COVID-19 pandemic cutting Walburn's first track and field season short, he said he believes he has another three years to attempt this same feat, but his eyes are on a much larger goal.
“Our goal is in the next three years to try and make it to (Olympic) Trials, that's what I want," said Walburn. "That's the motivation. It's trying to get a score that gets closer and closer and just improve on everything."