Recent Bonny Eagle High graduate Rowan McDonald won two national high school race walking championships this past weekend – the 3,000-meter race at the Nike nationals in Eugene, Oregon, on Friday, and then the mile at the New Balance nationals in Philadelphia on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

STANDISH — On consecutive days and on opposite coasts, Rowan McDonald walked away with two national high school track and field championships.

That makes McDonald, 16, a recent Bonny Eagle High graduate, the best high school race walker in the country.

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. It’s really hard to wrap your head around,” said McDonald, of Standish.

Last Friday, the 6-foot-3 McDonald won the 3,000-meter race walk at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, Oregon. Barely 24 hours later in Philadelphia, McDonald bested a field of 17 racers to win the mile race walk for the second year in a row at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals.

McDonald, who skipped a year of school during grade school, also is a three-time Class A champion in the 1,600-meter race walk. Since Maine is the only state in which both the boys’ and girls’ race walk is a scored event during the high school outdoor track season, Maine race walkers typically fare well at the national high school championships. McDonald now has a total of eight high school national championships – four outdoors, four indoors – over the last three years.

“Living in Maine is definitely a huge advantage,” McDonald said. “Other states have it, but it’s kind of only at the youth level. Having had that (at the) high school level is such a benefit.”


There two key rules of race walking: one foot must always be in contact with the ground, and the lead leg must remain straight with a locked knee until it passes under the torso. The form creates a hip-swiveling, odd-looking gait that is easy to mock but much harder to maintain.

Abigail (Dunn) Smith coaches the Maine Race Walkers, a club in Auburn that attracts some of the state’s top race walkers, including McDonald. Smith competed at Edward Little High and was a six-time NAIA All-American at Goshen (Indiana) College.

“You have to be comfortable with yourself and what your goals are, and you have to be willing to not let other’s opinions of you or the sport get to you,” Smith said.

McDonald, who has been race walking since he was 5 and competing in national events since 2016, called his first year or so of competing in high school “challenging.” But as he progressed, teammates realized that McDonald should be respected for his ability and for his benefit to the team.

“Our kids look to Rowan as a leader and almost as a coach when it comes to race walk,” said Ryan Dyer, Bonny Eagle’s girls’ cross country and track coach, who trains all of the school’s distance runners. “He’s very well-respected among the athletes on our team. They know he’s good and that he knows what he’s doing.”

McDonald was a captain on Bonny Eagle’s cross country team and typically finished third on the team. In indoor track, which does not have race walk as an event, he focused on the 2-mile for the first part of the season, then switched to his race walk training to prepare for indoor national meets. McDonald won three indoor championships – the New Balance title in Boston, the Nike championships in New York City, and the Adidas championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This spring, though his focus was almost entirely on the race walk, McDonald was still able to qualify for the Class A state meet in the 3,200 running event.


Rowan McDonald is headed to the University of Maine to major in mechanical engineer, but won’t be able to compete in the race walk for the Black Bears because that event isn’t offered in NCAA track and field meets. Instead, the Bonny Eagle High graduate plans to train for national competitions. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

After the high school season ended, McDonald embarked on a whirlwind schedule that included three races in as many days. He first competed in the U20 10,000 meters and the high school 3,000 on Thursday and Friday at the Nike meet in Oregon. Next, he competed in the New Balance mile at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

In Eugene, McDonald finished second among five racers in the 10,000 with a time of 49 minutes, 56.97 seconds. It was only his second race at that distance.

“I was pushing myself to the absolute limit. I finished that race and I was barely standing. I couldn’t feel my feet,” McDonald said. “I think it really was the best I could have done. It was a 20-second personal best for me.”

The next day, McDonald won the 3,000 in 15:24.27. Maine Race Walkers teammates Ian Britt, a sophomore at Mt. Ararat (second, 15:31.66), and Carter Butterfield, a recent graduate of Mt. Abram (third, 17:36.01), also competed.

Minutes after getting his medal, McDonald and his mother, Kate, began the trek to Philadelphia. They left Eugene at 9:30 a.m. and landed in Philadelphia after midnight. McDonald said he didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. after he massaged the travel tension out of his legs. He was up at 6:30 a.m.

“At Nike, I felt fresh, but at New Balance, I was like, ‘all right, I’ve got to do this, but I don’t know how I’m going to do. I was very, very nervous about how I was going to race.”


McDonald said the 17-walker field was the biggest he’d seen for a national race walk event. The field included Colin Graham of New Jersey, a top competitor who had finished second to McDonald at each of the indoor championships this past winter. Graham led with McDonald on his shoulder through three laps. That’s when McDonald made a surge and won in 7:04.14, with Graham seven seconds back.

“It was absolutely amazing. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I just did that. I’m so exhausted,'” McDonald said. “I was just so glad that I managed to go out there and race that race.”

McDonald is now at a crossroads with his sport. The NCAA doesn’t not include race walking as an event, so he won’t be competing for the University of Maine when he enrolls to study engineering. He still plans to train on his own and race in national under-20 events, but if he decides wants to compete at the college level, he would need to transfer to an NAIA school. Or, he could turn his attention to training for the Olympic 20-kilometer distance, with an eye toward the 2028 U.S. Olympic trials. McDonald said he’ll use his freshman year to get a better gauge whether he can balance school and the additional training he would need to race the 20K distance.

Maine’s only race walking Olympian is Kevin Eastler of Farmington, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Games.

“I think Rowan has the ability to train in the 20K and toe the line at an Olympic trials at some point in his future when he decides to do that,” Smith said.

Dyer, the track coach at Bonny Eagle, agreed.

“He is somebody who, if he continues on and works on his craft, he could challenge for an Olympic spot, I have no doubt. He’s that determined.”

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