The once-dominant US Paralympic ski team has been having a tough century. Since piling up nine gold medals at Salt Lake City in 2002, Team USA has seen its victory haul on the slopes dwindle to five golds in ’06, three in 2010, and just one apiece in 2014 and 2018. The latter Games produced only six US skiing medals overall, a number surpassed by eight other nations.
While the United States still has the most aggregate skiing medals since the Winter Paralympics began in 1976, it comes into the Beijing Games with only two bona fide contenders for a skiing gold medal: Laurie Stephens and Andrew Kurka. But don’t write off 24-year-old Thomas Walsh. A childhood cancer survivor and above-knee amputee, Walsh is an all-around talent who can vie for the podium in all four alpine disciplines (slalom, giant slalom, super G, and downhill). He placed a strong fifth in the slalom four years ago in PyeongChang, and he finished top 10 in all four disciplines last month at the World Para Snow Sports Championships, including a sixth-place finish in giant slalom. No other amputee skier has a better chance to add to Team USA’s medal total.
And skiing is only one of the things Walsh excels at. Here are some noteworthy feats this young man has achieved away from the slopes:
1. Walsh took Olympic skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin to the high school prom.
Walsh and Shiffrin grew up skiing together in Vail, Colorado, and their families have always been close. Walsh’s first ski instructor was Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen, and the anesthesiologist during his leg removal surgery was Shiffrin’s dad, Jeff, who passed away two years ago. And when Walsh was finishing up cancer treatment in 2014, the Make-a-Wish Foundation sent him to Sochi so he could watch Shiffrin compete in her first Olympics. Their prom date took place in 2012 and was held in a barn in Vermont, where both skiers attended high schools. See pics here.
2. Walsh designed a logo for the US Para Skiing Team.
Walsh attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he earned a BFA in performing arts. Along the way he must have picked up a few graphic design skills, because in 2017—a few months after he skied in his first World Championships—Walsh began a stint as US Para Alpine Skiing’s graphic designer. He came up with a new logo during his roughly year-long tenure, and while that design has since been replaced, the current emblem’s blend of US flag, gray sky, and snowy mountain peak bears distinct echoes of Walsh’s rendering (pictured here).
3. He’s won two World Championship medals and a Crystal Globe.
Walsh competed in the 2017 World Championships but did not make the podium. The following year he won a coveted Crystal Globe as the best slalom paraskier on the World Cup racing circuit. At the 2018 Paralympics, he stood fifth in the slalom after the first run, less than a second out of medal position. But Walsh couldn’t make up the ground he needed on his second run. Even so, the fifth-place finish was a triumph for the first-time Paralympian, setting the stage for his two bronze medals (in giant slalom and super combined) at the World Championships the following year.
4. Walsh pairs his artistic and athletic talents when he’s competing.
“Creativity is a big aspect of sports,” he told NBC last year. “When I’m skiing down a racecourse, it’s just like a brush stroke on a canvas. The expression and style of how someone creates a piece of art is just how I ski down a mountain. The artistry and style of dance and body spatial awareness is huge when it comes to performing on a stage, but also when I’m skiing and how I manipulate my body in order to do certain adjustments or moves on the snow.”