Thomas Walsh is the top men’s standing skier on Team USA, currently in the top 10 in the men’s standing world cup rankings in slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
While Mikaela Shiffrin was winning a record fourth consecutive slalom world title, her former prom date, Thomas Walsh, was back in their hometown of Vail, Colorado, this week recovering from jet lag and the effort of his own success on the slopes in Europe.
Walsh, who just turned 24, is still catching up on sleep after stepping onto the world championship podium for the first time in his career at the World Para Alpine Skiing Championships last month. The Paralympian won bronze medals in the men’s standing division of giant slalom and super combined in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on the same hill where he raced in his first world cup race and won his first world cup medal.
“I’ve known I could do it for quite some time, and the fact that I could capitalize on that was really wonderful,” Walsh said. “I go into these competitions not really expecting much and just trying to ski my fastest-ever runs. I was able to put some runs together. It wasn’t always the prettiest skiing, but I was fortunate for how I did against my competition.”
Walsh has been profiled in several national TV segments and online stories as “Shiffrin’s prom date” from Vail who overcame bone cancer and skied at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. He entered his first Winter Games with “open eyes,” just looking to experience the atmosphere and take it all in. He put in respectable runs in PyeongChang in slalom, giant slalom and super-G, finishing fifth, seventh and 13th, respectively, in those disciplines.
But that’s old news now.
Walsh’s story angle has added another layer.
He’s more than just showing up to the slopes in 2019.
At this year’s world championships, a physically stronger and more mentally prepared Walsh proved he will undoubtedly be a Team USA medal contender for the next Paralympic cycle.
“Building up to the 2018 Games, I was still considered a rookie and new to the Paralympic world,” Walsh said. “I’m not sad about my performances (in PyeongChang), but now that I have that experience at the Paralympic Games, I realized what I needed to do to get to the next level. Coming into these world championships, I spent much more time training on snow and in the gym during our prep period in the summer. I was back at it two weeks after the Paralympics ready to go.”
Walsh is one of nine athletes who represented the U.S. at the world championships, winning two of the country’s three medals. He is the top men’s standing skier on Team USA, currently in the top 10 in the men’s standing world cup rankings in slalom, giant slalom and super-G. Additionally, in January, he won two world cup silver medals, his first of the season, in Zagreb, Croatia.
He’s been using his last year on the slopes as a “trial-and-error period,” elevating his technique and finessing his turns – which are similar to an able-bodied athlete since he skis with two skis and two poles – as well as focusing on strength training in the gym.
With all of the world cup races being in Europe this year, including the world cup finals in Morzine, France, from March 18-21, Walsh has also had to deal with homesickness and jet lag.
As someone who studied performing arts in college and who’s always trying to be creative on the road, he uses his artistry to keep himself mentally set on the circuit. Walsh always travels with a sketchbook to his races and is constantly photoshopping artistic images of his travels and competitions.
The homesickness and jet lag, however, has definitely been worth it this season
“The world championships were the first indicator or big benchmark for me in the prep period leading up to the next Paralympic Games,” Walsh said. “Now, it’s about how much more can I push my skiing and seeing how much more I can progress.
“Hopefully I’m at the height of my career when the next Paralympics come around.”
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.