Growing up, Lua Walter was passionate about two things. One was her grades, and the other was horses. From the time she was eight, she rode English hunter jumpers, which involves riding a horse around a ring at high speed and hanging on tight while your mount jumps big fences.
“School always came first,” said Walter. “It was important to get good grades. So the horse thing was my escape. It was my time to do something that wasn’t just about achievement.”
Walter was so successful in school that she went to college and medical school at Tulane. Unfortunately, when she started residency in Alexandria, Louisiana, she had to leave her barn behind because there were no riding stables there.
“I knew I needed another thing because I’m an outdoors person and I love being active. And I knew that residency was going to make me stay inside and be inactive,” said Walter.
Mountain biking became that next thing.
“My first bike was a steel frame, single speed, hardtail monstrosity,” said Walter. “That’s what I raced on the whole first year I did XTERRA. And yeah, I still take it out and ride it because I love it so much.”
In many ways, that first primitive bike was much like a horse for Walter.
“When I’m riding, I always know that my horse is looking after me,” she said. “I trusted my horse and felt very secure. But in the same way, in mountain biking, the bike is going to go where you point it, whether you make a good choice or a bad choice. So I guess, what I learned from mountain biking was how to trust myself.”
When Walter began riding her bike, she was 35 and dealing with a crossroads in her relationship.
“Most people get to their mid-thirties and have to decide, ‘Am I going to have a family with this person or will they leave?’ My person left. So I decided to do triathlons.”
The mountain biking community in Louisiana became something to lean back on for support. Walter kept showing up for rides, and in turn, the mountain biking community was friendly, supportive, and encouraging. Walter kept trusting herself which led her to her first triathlon – the XTERRA Gator Terra in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
“After the end of my relationship, the mountain bike community in Alexandria just embraced me,” said Walter. “They were like, you are still going to ride, right? You are still going to race? That’s when mountain biking stopped being scary and started becoming fun. Mountain biking became a way to see friends, travel, and have fun.”
At Arkadelphia, Walter met Nicole Dorhold and the two began coordinating races together.
“Even though Nicole lives in Oklahoma, we started bringing people in,” said Walter. “Now we have friends and fellow competitors in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas. Honestly, it’s just so much bigger than just wanting to do a race. The race is just a platform to get to see my people. And at XTERRA races? These are my people.”
In 2016, Walter qualified for the XTERRA World Championship and was the XTERRA Regional Champ for two years in a row in 2017 and 2018. She races often and travels from Louisiana to other states, including Texas and Utah if that’s where the race – and her friends – happen to be. This year Walter won her age group at XTERRA Rock Dallas, was second at XTERRA Blue Bonnet and also competed in XTERRA Magnolia Hill, Oak Mountain, and Cameron Park. Her favorite race remains the XTERRA World Championship on Maui.
“The XTERRA World Championship in Maui is like the fantasy race,” said Walter. “I remember just getting started with XTERRA and knowing that Maui existed and thinking, that’s so cool that people get to do that. But it was always, ‘those people.’ It was ‘other people’ who got to do the race in Maui, but not me. So when I qualified, I thought, Shoot, I have to go.”
Walter found a team of women to compete with.
“It started as an idea to have a team of women in endurance sports,” said Walter. “It’s hard to find strong women friends who are also willing to go out and fight. But if you find that tribe, then you are competing against people you love and with people you love. And that makes a sisterhood.”
At the XTERRA World Championship this year in Utah, Walter was on a relay with Nicole Dorhold and Kristin Murr, who were the mountain bikers and swimmers, respectively. While many are intimidated by the swim, Walter grew up in South Florida.
“I grew up at the beach so the swim has never bothered me,” said Walter. “But I also don’t really like it either. We are still in an aggressive relationship, swimming and me. I want to like it but I’m not there yet.”
The race at the XTERRA World Championship was challenging this year. Because of the hurricanes in Hawaii this summer, the course was exceptionally muddy. But in truth, the race on Maui has never been easy.
When Walter watched the year’s highlight video at the Aloha Welcome Dinner, she saw that portrayed on the big screen.
“This was the first year I sat back and thought, look at us!” said Walter. “We are all struggling but we are all in this paintbox together. I used to think the XTERRA World Championship was for other people, but not for me. Now that I’m here at XTERRA Worlds, I realize that it’s for me too. Now I am ‘those people,’ and that’s hard to believe. It’s hard to believe that this is my real life.”