With the clock ticking until the start of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, Para alpine skiers are getting ready for a vital season which includes the 2017 World Championships. For the USA’s Thomas Walsh, this means adding more medals to his tally following his successful debut season in the World Cup.
“The competition is tight but now I know what to expect” said the 21-year-old as he prepares for his second season. “I think I have a chance to be an event winner and possibly an overall winner [in a World Cup discipline].”
Walsh had no expectations for his first season. Yet, he won giant slalom gold in the men’s standing at the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland. “It was the proudest moment of my life,” Walsh said, “it’s where I felt the stars align and all my hard work pay off.”
The athlete had always dreamt of representing his country at the Olympics. However, he was suddenly diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in 2009. After 14 months of chemotherapy and surgeries, he was declared as having no evidence of the disease. But he did not “truly know if [he] could ski again” and wanted to “return to normal life” as quickly as possible.
After some research, the young skier discovered that he could be eligible to compete in Para alpine skiing. “In December 2014, I reached out to an Adaptive Alpine Development Programme for coaching and guidance” said Walsh. One year later, he was named to the US Para alpine skiing team.
Along with the gold medal, Walsh finished his debut season ranked second in slalom and third in giant slalom in the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup. Expectations for his second season are high, but the athlete seems to be prepared: “You’ll be sure to see my A game come race days” said Walsh.
With the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championship in Tarvisio, Italy, from 22-31 January the US skier will need to be in the form of his life. “There are so many good athletes on the circuit” comments Walsh, “and I look forward to the challenging competition.”
However, Walsh is not just focusing on his rivals, “The one person I know that I will be chasing down the hill is myself.” he said, “I am racing against a clock and I am the only person who can stop it.”
Walsh hopes his performances at the upcoming World Championships will pave the way for him to represent Team USA at PyeongChang 2018.
The growing talent has two aims if he competes on the biggest stage possible: “I want to win medals.” But he also wants to keep an old promise he once made to a friend.
During chemotherapy, Steven Nyman (an US Olympic skier) gave Walsh the bib he wore at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics. “I said the gift was too much, but he insisted I keep it” said Walsh, “but I vowed when I made it to a Games I would return it to him.”
PyeongChang 2018 is Walsh’s opportunity to fulfil that promise, “I want to earn my own Paralympic bib” Walsh said, “and then I can gratefully return the Torino Olympic bib to my friend.”
The Tarvisio 2017 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships will feature around 140 athletes from 30 countries between 22-31 January across speed and technical disciplines.