Carter Walles’ swimming success is no secret.
The Lake Stevens senior has swam in four state events every year of his high school career. Walles has two top-five finishes in the 500 freestyle and is receiving interest from NCAA Division I programs.
What is concealed from those who aren’t familiar with Walles — those outside his swimming family — is the transformation he’s undergone reigniting his passion for swimming.
Walles has excelled in the pool ever since he joined his older brother in competitive swimming following his family’s move to Lake Stevens more than seven years ago.
He won events, and seemingly every race produced a new personal record. His competitive fire flashed early on, and his drive to be the best showed during distance races.
“You have a kid who has so much success early on in a sport,” Lake Stevens coach Brady Dykgraaf said. “Those first five years you just drop time, go to a meet and drop time. And that’s a lot of kids, not just a Carter thing. That is a swimming thing. If you only enjoy winning and dropping time, that’s a lot of time you spend in the pool not enjoying it.”
Victories and times defined whether or not Walles enjoyed swimming. But as Walles aged, hit high school and encountered tougher competition in club swimming and at Lake Stevens, those continuous victories, and especially time drops, came with less and less regularity.
Because Walles had become such a premier swimmer, his ability to shave seconds off races proved more difficult.
“I just hit a tough path after sophomore year at state,” Walles said. “My mental game was out of flux. I wasn’t feeling the same or happy in the water, and then it took me a long time. When I was young, I was so confident. I could go out there and go for it and race. I guess I kind of lost a little bit of faith in my training and faith in how good I was.”
Walles was an instant talent from the first time he set foot in Lake Stevens’ pool. He placed seventh at state in the 500 freestyle, finished 12th in the 100 backstroke and swam on the Vikings’ 400 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay teams during his freshman season.
He followed that a year later at state with a second-place time of 4 minutes, 41.30 seconds in the 500 free, an 11th-place finish in the 100 backstroke and two more swims in Lake Stevens’ 400 free and 200 medley relay.
“When you get older, everyone around you is evening out and it gets harder,” Walles said. “It went from, ‘Oh, well I’m good,’ to ‘Wow, I have so much more to go,’ I was dissatisfied where I was.”
Walles switched club teams, joining WEST Coast Aquatics. He said the change was beneficial, but his mentality toward swimming began to change as his junior season of high school swimming began.
Walles had always benefited from the leadership and guidance provided by upperclassmen who impacted him as a younger Vikings swimmer. As a junior, it was his opportunity to give back, and he found pleasure in mentoring others. Walles loved seeing teammates improve.
“Mentoring people going through the same thing I did helped me realize there is more to me and more to the sport of swimming than just the time that shows up,” Walles said. “I really do love swimming, and I think I got away from that for a while. One thing I learned is that I love coaching and helping other people get faster.”
In fact one of Walles’ favorite memories last year wasn’t a personal accomplishment — it was seeing his good friend Kyle Rasmussen win titles in the 100 and 200 free at JV Championships.
Walles’ results were also returning to form.
He placed third at state in the 500 free, finishing in 4:43.81. Walles also captured a sixth-place finish in the 200 free.
“Carter is just a super positive, team guy,” Dykgraaf said. “It’s cool to watch a kid — as fast as he is — embrace the high school team piece. That’s not always the case with those guys.”
Walles is hoping his re-discovered love for swimming and team mentality will translate to a memorable senior season in and out of the pool. He hopes to finish top three at state in both the individual events he swims and also help his team redeem itself from a disqualification in last year’s state 200 medley relay.
“Outside of swimming and times, I want to make an emphasis to teach young swimmers,” Walles said. “I had so many great swimmers who touched me and made me better. I really want to give back to the team.”