Thomas Walsh celebrates winning silver in the men's giant slalom finals at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 10, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING – Thomas Walsh was shocked when he saw the start list on Wednesday evening for the men’s giant slalom standing event for the next day at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
He would be the first to go in a field of 44 skiers. And he’d be wearing bib No. 13.
The 27-year-old cancer survivor decided to look at the list again on Thursday morning at the National Alpine Centre with a glass-half-full outlook.
He’d be the first to set the pace, wearing lucky No. 13.
Boy, did that make all the difference.
Walsh skied to silver, earning his first career Paralympic medal and finishing with a total time of 1:55.44 across his two runs. His time was also just four hundredths of a second behind gold-medal winner Santeri Kiiveri’s of Finland.
“I’m not sure it has fully set in yet,” Walsh said. “I’ve wanted this medal for as long as I can remember. There was a point in time where I was told I wasn’t going to be able to ski.”
Walsh, a two-time Paralympian, had two bronze medals from the world championships to his name, but in his five previous Paralympic races he had yet to medal. His previous best came three days earlier when he was fourth in the super combined.
The Vail, Colorado native was in first place following the first giant slalom run after posting a time of 57.60, and then clocked a fifth-best 57.84 in his second run, during which he toughened it out to maintain his balance under the sweltering sun on the hill.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be the fastest run as the snow conditions were a little rough. I kind of shook my head, but I got to the bottom and tried to pipe the last three turns,” he said. “Maybe I should have had another sip of water to get a little more weight for those four hundredths, but I did it and made it down.”
Following his race, Walsh reflected on the long journey that got him to the podium, from Mikaela Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, teaching him to move his hips at every turn as a kid, to arriving five days late in Yanqing due to COVID protocols last week.
There is so much along the way that will be just as big, if not bigger, than this moment for him.
“At the end of the day it’s just a piece of metal,” he said. “It’s about the experiences and the friendships and memories that I’ve made in my career as a skier, as well as for all the coaches and ski instructors, and most importantly, my mom. Being at the Paralympics is a huge deal and I’m really happy to get this medal to say I did it, but this doesn’t change what I do and why I do it.”
Walsh will have one more race at these Paralympics, the slalom on Sunday, before heading back home to Colorado where he said his celebration will be simple – going skiing with his friends.