WATERVILLE — If Billy Chambers had been a better sprinter when he was in the sixth grade, he might not be an All-American today.

Now a Waterville Senior High School senior, Chambers recently placed fifth in the one mile race walk at the New Balance Indoor National Track and Field Championships in New York City. Chambers finished the race in 7:18.77, earning All-American status in the process. With the outdoor track and field season set to begin practices next Monday, Chambers has his eyes on a state championship.

“Coming back as the top in the state in Class B is pretty rewarding, knowing that everyone else doing the sport looks at me,” Chambers, who placed second in the race walk at the Class B state meet last spring, said. “At first I just did it for the points. Now I realize I’m pretty good.”

“In Class B, I think Billy is certainly one of the favorites. He’s been close to the seven minute barrier. I know he wants to take a shot at that. We hope he gets a couple good opportunities to do it,” Waterville track and field coach Rob Stanton said. “Part of walking fast is, you need that little extra spark that a good competition gives you. That can be hard to find when you’re as good as Billy is.”

Chambers took up race walking in sixth grade, when a coach saw he wasn’t doing well as a sprinter. In the race walk, at least Chambers would pick up some points for his team.

“I wasn’t very good (as a sprinter),” Chambers said. “Wendy Serbent started teaching me, because her son was also race walking.”

Now, Chambers is one of the leaders of a strong group of high school race walkers in Maine. Spencer Dunn, of Auburn’s Edward Little High School, finished just ahead of Chambers in fourth place at the national championships in New York. To place in the state meet as a freshman, Chambers finished in just over nine minutes. As a sophomore, he cut his time to 7:45, and went 7:13 to place second in the state meet last year. That nine-minute race Chambers ran to earn points as a freshman would have kept him near the back of the pack in the state meet race last year, when Caribou’s Bryce Coffin went 8:25 to take seventh and round out the podium.

“Not only has his performance improved dramatically over the last three years, the overall quality of race walkers has improved dramatically as well,” Stanton said. “He’s had to be a minute and a half faster over three years just to maintain (All-State).”

At the national championships, Chambers ran one of the better races of his career. He started on the outside, and that meant he had to go up the banked turn.

“I was next to a kid who was tall with super long strides, so I couldn’t get around him very easily. The first couple laps felt really fast paced. I was sticking with the leaders,” Chambers said.

Chambers made a move late to jump up a few spots.

“I was in seventh place throughout most of the race. I was kind of scared I wouldn’t go All-American, but I just felt I had the endurance that most of them didn’t have. I had to out-endure them, and that’s what I did,” Chambers said.

Chambers’ endurance comes from running cross country in the fall and running the mile and two mile for Waterville’s indoor track and field team in the winter. Race walk is just an outdoor event in Maine high school track and field. During the winter, Chambers made sure to get a race walk workout in after a distance practice, working on his form in a back hall at Waterville Senior High.

“A lot of it comes from his running background. He’s very fit. When race walk season comes around, we implement some more actual race walking into what he does,” Stanton said. “He’s got some goals for the outdoor season, and we wanted to make sure he’s not getting too far away from it.”

Very few events must follow form and technique as much as the race walk. During the race, judges are around the track, watching to make sure competitors have at least one foot on the track at all times, and when the racer’s knee bends, it bends behind the hips. A violation results in a card. Three cards earns a disqualification. Break form in the final 100 meters of the race, and it’s an automatic disqualification, regardless of whether or not the racer has earned a previous card.

“It’s always scary. I look right at the refs every time I pass to make sure I’m not getting a card. It’s a heart sinking feeling when you get that card. I got one card at nationals, in the second to last lap. I was kind of scared I was going to get DQ’d for that,” Chambers said.

To reach his goal of a state championship this spring, Chambers is working on his speed.

“I’ll work not so much on my form, because I feel like I have that down pat. I need to work on speed in the final turnover, because I’m not fast on the final straight. I need to work on that,” Chambers said. “Trevor Judd from Spruce Mountain is right behind me. I feel like he’s going to come back really strongly this year, so I’m going to have to do a lot of training.”

Chambers will enroll at Thomas College next year. He plans on training with Tom Eastler, Maine’s race walking guru. Chambers’ long term goal is to qualify for the Olympic trials in the 25K or 50K race walk. His success in the event could have a trickle down effect with Waterville’s younger race walkers. On Wednesday after school, Chambers was going to coach a younger teammate looking to improve.

“It’s not an event that I grew up with. I’d never call myself an expert. I’ve learned some things over the years and I can see some basic things, but frankly, he’s got a better handle on a lot of it than I do,” Stanton said. “He’s a valuable resource, too. A lot of it is just his innate feel for what he’s doing.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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