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Thomas Walsh: “Finding The Love Of The Sport Again” In First Para Alpine Team Training Since March

By Thomas Walsh | Oct. 22, 2020, 10:44 a.m. (ET)

Thomas Walsh competes in the Alpine Skiing - Men's Slalom - Standing at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 17, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Thomas Walsh is a 24-year old Alpine skier looking to make his second U.S. Paralympic Team in 2022. Here, he writes from Hintertux Glacier in Austria, where he’s with the team for its first training since March.

It’s day three of skiing here in Hintertux. The weather has been a little subpar; visibility is pretty low. However, spirits are really high because we’re finally back on the snow after so long.

Needless to say, it’s been a weird year for all of us. Normally, our team is on the road together almost 10 months a year, but when COVID-19 shut down the U.S. in March, we were all sent home from Norway. Then, everybody was isolated in their own places, and we didn’t see each other for so long. 

I, for one, spent the time at home in Colorado, working toward my master’s degree as well as training at the gym and doing a lot of bike riding. I bought a paddleboard, which was a big investment, but very necessary to be outside and enjoy the sunshine during summer. And then there was just a lot of waiting, waiting to see what’s going to happen with our training, what’s going to happen with our races. And then we finally got the word that we’d be able to come here and train as a team again.

Now that we’re together again, it’s almost like nothing was missed. The team is such a close-knit group of people that everything picks back up. We’re all staying on the same floor, like a big family. And we’ve already gotten back into a groove with our training schedule: every day, we all get up around 7. We have some breakfast and we get dressed and pack up the van with our skis and our bags. Then we get there, we unload the van, and we head up the gondola. We get dressed inside one of the main lodges, then we go out and ski. 

Not everything’s back to normal, though. Far from it: COVID-19 has changed how we travel, how we spend time “together,” and how we train. When we arrived in Germany on Friday, we had to stay there for two days before we were allowed to travel into Austria. We were quarantined here for a few days, got another COVID-19 test, and then we were finally allowed to ski. 

Now, even though we’re all staying on the same floor, COVID-19 protocol means we still have to keep a distance from each other, and just like in the U.S., we wear a mask any time we’re outside our rooms. It’s been isolating, but for the first couple days of quarantine I was a little bit behind on my homework and had to shut myself in to study, anyway. We also managed to find a way to interact safely outside of our rooms: A bunch of us brought lacrosse sticks this trip and we are able to pass the ball socially distanced. Even during our quarantine, we would go stand 10 or 12 feet apart with masks on in the parking lot and pass the ball back and forth.

We all want each other to succeed, and I think that stems from having a disability and understanding that everybody has different challenges.

When we were finally able to train, there was somewhat of a learning curve. This has been the longest time I’ve gone without putting my ski boots on since I was 14 years old, so coming back, it was terrifying not knowing how we’d look, how we’d ski. For me, the feet kind of hurt from putting them in the ski boots again. The plastic and metal are far from comfortable. Plus, just wearing ski boots, carrying stuff to the hill, being on the chair lift, it really drains you, and you have to get in that habit again. I also have to get used to freezing my butt off on the trail again. But on the hill, once I got going skiing and once I started to feel it out, it kind of started to feel like home again. I’d say it’s like riding a bike, but for me, it’s like skiing. 

But like with any other sport right now, there’s some uncertainty over what exactly we’re training for. Ideally, we all want to race the world cups that will start in January. And then this year there are also the World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Norway, our test event that’s supposed to happen in Beijing, and the Beijing Olympics in 2022 — well, that’s the big cheese. We are one of the only countries who really hasn’t been skiing in Paralympics, so we’re at kind of a slight disadvantage going into those races. And that’s why we’re here, to get the ball rolling. 

That said, I’m not a very results-oriented person, so competition is not what I’m focusing on here in Austria. I want to win, but more than that, I try to focus on getting stronger and skiing better each day. And right now, I’m just trying to get the feeling back, and finding the love of the sport again. Yes, it’s challenging that there’s some uncertainty surrounding our competitions, but I’m still going to be skiing whether there’s a competition or not. Even if I’m not in the gates training to go as fast as I can, I’m still able to be skiing because I love it.

With that in mind, another goal of this whole training camp is to test out the process of traveling and skiing safely. We’re trying to do that while setting a good example as representatives of our sport and our country. We’re doing our best to exemplify what it’s like to wear a mask and to be responsible and be respectful and make sure everybody’s healthy, because that is probably the biggest concern right now. 

We’re heading back home at the end of the month. Until then, I look forward to getting better each day and spending time with my teammates. Because this really is a team effort. At the end of the day I think that our sport is really unique in that we all support each other. We all want each other to succeed, and I think that stems from having a disability and understanding that everybody has different challenges. 

I think that every day our team exemplifies that support by carrying each other’s skis. Every day, the standing athletes like myself will carry one of the sitting athlete’s skis because it snowed really heavily the past couple of days and the slush on the road was pretty bad, and the people in wheelchairs couldn’t carry their skis on their own. And so we just grabbed their skis and we were on our way. Every day, we help each other.

Thomas Walsh

Thomas Walsh is a Paralympian and a two-time world championship medalist in Para Alpine skiing. This post was written in conjunction with Jessica Price, a contributor to USParaAlpineSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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