Samuel Northrup, Staff Writer
Every two years, when the Olympics take place, you often hear of an athlete that started training in their respective sport from the age of three or four, planning to reach their first Olympics, but Jill Walsh’s Paralympic debut in Rio this past month was anything but planned.
Walsh, wife of Utica College professor Gregory Walsh, is a retired state trooper and was an avid triathlete throughout her life until multiple sclerosis began to affect her balance and ability to run. Determined to remain active, Walsh began to focus on cycling soon after.
“I participated in marathons and triathlons for many years, but just for fun and fitness,” Walsh said. “MS was making it difficult for me to continue running, so I started putting more time into cycling.”
After making the change to full-time cycling, Walsh participated in the Million Dollar Challenge 600-mile bicycle ride in California, which sets a goal to raise $1 million to benefit the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation. However, that ride would be her last on a two-wheeled bicycle, but would set her on course for her Olympic journey three years later.
“That [cycling] led to my participating in the Million Dollar Challenge 600-mile bicycle ride in California, which benefits the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation,” Walsh explained. “C.A.F. had helped me, so joining them was a way for me to thank them and promote their cause. At that point, I still had no notion or goal of competing at a national or international level.
“Unfortunately, that ride turned out to be my last one on a two-wheeled bicycle, as balance issues resulting from MS found me falling a few times during the ride. I ended up talking with a man who was participating in the ride on a three-wheeled “Trike.” Little did I know then that I would be racing one of those nine months later, winning my first national championship in Madison, WI in 2014.”
Walsh’s performance at the U.S.A. Cycling Amateur and Para-Cycling Road National Championships in 2014 also got her an invite to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Following her first time training at the O.T.C., the cycler from Syracuse, NY found herself competing on the world stage for the first time at the 2014 Road World Championships.
Two years later, Walsh traveled with Team U.S.A. to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with two years of vigorous training, world championship experience and four medals, including a gold medal victory to become the Female World Trike Champion in 2015.
Professor Walsh gave some insight on the process Mrs. Walsh and Team U.S.A. went through to get to Rio.
“She had to leave a couple of weeks before going down to Rio,” he said. “Her team met in California for a week of training, and then they went to Houston for processing for the Olympic and Paralympic athletes. It’s a pretty lengthy endeavor as far as processing and getting fitted for all the uniforms you see them wear on TV, like the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony, they wear something different on the podium if they win a medal.”
After she arrived for the Paralympics, which took place September 7 to 18, Walsh competed in two events, Women’s Time Trial T1-2 and Women’s Road Race T1-2, winning silver medals in both.
“It just kept going and continues to get crazier as it goes,” said Walsh. “I remember, prior to the World Cup season starting last year, laughing with my husband about how, if the season went well, I could make the U.S. Para-Cycling ‘A’ Team again in January 2016, an Olympic year. We just joked about it, never thinking we would both find ourselves in Rio in September 2016. Crazy and surreal.”
When asked about the future, Walsh would not speculate about the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan. One thing she was certain about, however, was that she will continue to promote awareness for others with physical disabilities.
“Regardless of what MS has in store for me, I will continue figuring out new ways to keep moving, and hopefully promoting awareness for others with MS or physical disabilities that they can still be active, just in a different way than they may have been used to,” Walsh said. “Who knows, the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics are in Tokyo. I have never been to Japan!”