U.S. Paralympics Cyc... Features After Initial Disapp...

After Initial Disappointment, Then Whirlwind Of Emotions, Jill Walsh Is On Her Way To Tokyo

By Jim Hoehn | Aug. 26, 2021, 12:22 a.m. (ET)

Jill Walsh, a two-time silver medalist in Rio, was initially left of the U.S. team but was later added via bipartite invitation.


After a brief dip into the depths of competitive disappointment, Jill Walsh is back on track and headed to a second Paralympic Games.


Walsh, who won two silver medals in road cycling at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, was not initially selected for Tokyo 2020, which begin Aug. 24 in Tokyo, despite a solid showing at the U.S. trials in June in Minneapolis.


But, almost as quickly as her Paralympic hopes were dashed, they were resurrected when Walsh was added to TeamUSA in early July via bipartite invitation.


Although the whirlwind ultimately sent Walsh to her desired destination, the feeling of initially being left off the team definitely stung, she said.


Id be lying to say I wasnt — I was extremely disappointed,” she said. The selection process had gone through many amendments and revisions. There was a multi-step approach. Even though I won my race at the selection event by a good margin, I wasnt selected.”


Although she understood that there was still a chance to be added to the Paralympic team, maintaining her training level after trials was difficult, she said.


It gave me hope, but to be honest with you, it was very hard to motivate yourself to train really hard,” Walsh said. If you ask my family, you could say I did a lot of whining during that 2 ½ or almost three weeks between the two dates.”


Then came the call.


I was a little stunned, I feel like I had a little bit of whiplash,” she said. It took a bit for it to sink in. When our high-performance director called me, I really didnt respond too much. I guess to avoid being disappointed again, I had kind of talked myself out of the fact that I would get (an invitation)”


When she heard the words, though, “I was very happy,” she said. Her family shared the feeling, encouraging Walsh to go out and celebrate.


I have worked really hard for five years trying to get my spot,” Walsh said. I felt like I had done a lot of work to get to that point, so I was very glad that the (International Paralympic Committee) decided to grant me a spot.”


The 58-year-old Walsh, a retired New York state trooper, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010. An avid triathlete, she continued to compete, but after experiencing balance problems on her bicycle due to MS she switched to a three-wheeled trike.


Walsh has been a force in the T2 classification since 2014, frequently finding the podium in the road race and time trial at major events. That was the case at her world championships debut in 2014, when she took second in the road race and third in the time trial. One year later she won her first world title in the road race and finished second in the time trial.


In her Paralympic debut in 2016 in Rio, Walsh won silver medals in both events. Two years later, she won gold medals in both at the world championships.


Like many athletes, Walsh struggled with the uncertainty during the pandemic, which ultimately led to the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 being postponed a year.


I have a progressive disease, and my disease has definitely progressed over the last four years,” she said. It was definitely my last shot.”


Continuing to train, especially indoors during the colder part of the year in New York, was a challenge, Walsh admitted.


That was really tough,” she said. I have an autoimmune disease, and I take medication that lowers my immune system, so I was very cautious during Covid. I did almost, Id say, 90 percent of my riding in my basement on Zwift. Thats really hard to motivate yourself to go in your basement and sweat like that.”


She credited the U.S. team with helping her stay motivated via group Zwift rides with coaches.


But that was very hard to push yourself when youre riding in isolation all the time,” she said.


With races finally coming back in 2021, Walsh was feeling good. In June, she went to Portugal for the world championships, winning a silver and bronze medal there. Then she flew straight to Minneapolis for the U.S. trials. She left feeling deep disappointment, however.


Walsh’s husband had driven out to Minnesota because rental cars were hard to come by at the time. After trials, they drove home over two days, and Walsh took the next week off.


“I just couldnt motivate myself to even look at that bike because I had just been traveling and training and racing so much, I needed a little break,” she said. “Then, when I got the call July 5, then it was full on again.”


With the restrictions surrounding the Games, Walshs family will not be able to watch her compete in person.


Let me tell you, theyre very disappointed,” she said. A good chunk of my family was able to go down to Rio when I went there and theyre pretty disappointed that they wont be able to get to go, but theyre planning on having a watch party here.”


Jim Hoehn is a freelance contributor to USParaCycling.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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