Stephanie Walker says she is going to cry.
There’s no stopping it.
With every word she talks about her mother, Walker looses more and more control of her emotions. She takes a deep breath and stops talking. She wipes away tears from her face. She apologizes. It is the briefest of pauses.
Walker continues talking and the tears continue to roll down her cheeks.
For a woman who admits she is usually good at hiding her emotions, Walker doesn‘t hold back her feelings, even with more than 30 people around her at a practice in a crowded gym.
Walker will talk no matter how emotional it makes her. This is her bravery. This is her strength. This is her love for her mother and family.
Walker is the only child of Marywin and Grant of Echo Bay. They’ve been married 26 years. They have a formidable family bond. Marywin and Grant rarely, if ever, missed a game their daughter competed in growing up and through high school, and she played everything from basketball to swimming.
Since Walker joined the Cambrian College women’s volleyball team five years ago, her parents have rarely missed coming to Sudbury and across the province to see her play.
There is no mistaking Stephanie Walker is the pride and joy of her parents. There is no denying the fact her parents are the biggest inspiration to Walker. This love faced its hardest test a season ago.
In the summer of 2011, Walker’s mother was diagnosed with a tumour in her frontal lobe. She had surgery in a hospital in London. It went well, but hours after the surgery, her brain swelled and a second emergency surgery was performed to reduce it.
Marywin also suffered two mini strokes which put her in further jeopardy. She was put on life support. She was in bad shape, couldn’t respond to loved ones and nearly died.
What followed was two more surgeries and months and months of recovery and rehab for Marywin.
The situation took its toll on Walker. She nearly quit the Cambrian team for the 2011-12 season to be at her mother’s side.
Grant told his daughter to be strong and that her mother would want her to keep competing.
Walker did just that. She wore her brave face and stayed strong during the toughest moments of her life while her mother fought for her life.
“My parents have always been there for me. They are amazing,” Walker said. “It would have been tough if I didn’t have my mom in my life. It is a miracle she got through that, we all got through that.
"My dad is a hero because he stayed by her side. I questioned coming to Cambrian. My dad told me to go back because that’s what my mom would have wanted. There were practices where my eyes were glazed over and I wasn’t really there.
"School wasn’t the first thing in my mind during that time. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”
Walker, 22, a second-year business administration student and three-year fitness and leisure management graduate, made a good decision. Her mother was eventually moved to a Sault Ste. Marie hospital to be closer to family and got better as the season wore on.
Walker did her part as she helped Cambrian win silver at the OCAA championship - the first provincial medal for the program since it won gold in 2004-05. (She also helped the team win provincial bronze this year.)
Her parents have been with Walker every step of the way. Marywin is a nurse. Grant owns a metal-fabrication business. Their support has helped Walker become a confident and proud woman.
When Marywin was sick, Grant would call his daughter nightly with updates. Walker inherited the values and morals of her parents. It has made her a person of courage, but one with compassion.
“My parents have always been there for me and been at many of my games. That means so much. It gave me so much,” Walker said.
Marywin doesn’t remember a lot from her ordeal. She thought she was in the hospital for two days, not more than four months. She missed a lot of her daughter’s games while recovering. She missed seeing her daughter’s passion and fierce competitive side.
Marywin feels fortunate to have a family she can count on and was able to see her kid compete again despite being left with poor vision.
“Grant and Stephanie were my saviours,” she said. “It meant the world to me to see Stephanie play again. I can’t see that well anymore, but I can pick her out no problem on the court. She is my girl and I wouldn’t give her up for anything.”
Walker made an undeniable impact on the Cambrian program over the last five years. Her relentless work ethic for peak physical fitness has earned her a lot of respect.
Cambrian head coach Dale Beausoleil points to Walker’s resolve as her most outstanding trait. It has been her resolve that has made her an OCAA first- and second-team all-star and Academic All-Canadian during her career.
“Stephanie has always been able to work her way through anything,” Beausoleil said. “She never gives up, game or practice. She has a big heart and character.
"She doesn’t believe in losing. She went through a lot with her mom and came to play for us every game. It shows what kind of woman she is.”
Teammate Stacy Carter and the other women on the team can only imagine the daily turmoil Walker went through. There were tough times for Walker and when she needed her team, they were there for her. There was going to be no other way.
The team has nothing but respect for the hard-hitting middle blocker.
“She did a lot for me and other girls,” Carter said. “When she needed us, we were there for her no matter what. Stephanie puts a lot of effort into what she does. She is a tough girl, but also loving and caring. Everyone respects her. She brings intensity to the team. When she gets angry, it’s good to see because she plays better. I could go on about her for hours because she is a well-rounded person.”
Walker graduates from business this spring and is going to stay in Sudbury and work in the business field. She has grown to love Sudbury over the past five years. It has become her second home. She loves the hybrid city/country feel to the community and friendly people.
It wasn’t always this way, but the five years at Cambrian and living in Sudbury have changed Walker.
“My first year, I went home almost every weekend” she said. “I was close-minded when I came here. I was going to get my education and go home. I made great friends and had great times here. I have a lot of important people in my life in Sudbury. I’m going to stay now. I’ve already started putting out resumes in town.”