Thomas Walsh’s First Paralympic Medal Highlights U.S. Alpine Team Performance
by Bob Reinert
Thomas Walsh celebrates his silver medal on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men's standing giant slalom on March 10, 2022 in Beijing.
When Thomas Walsh tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 12, putting his Paralympic Games in doubt, he was determined to do anything he could to get to the Games safely and land on the podium.
Sure enough, there he was less than a month later holding a Paralympic silver medal after finishing second in the men’s standing giant slalom, just four hundredths of a second behind gold medalist Santeri Kiiveri of Finland, who finished with a time of 1 minute, 55.40 seconds. France’s Arthur Bauchet won the bronze medal.
It was the only medal that the U.S. Para alpine skiing team would collect at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, and the 27-year-old Walsh of Vail, Colorado, was grateful for it.
“I've ski raced my whole life,” said Walsh, who appeared in his second Games. “I've always wanted to be an Olympian. Now I am a Paralympian, and now I am a Paralympic medalist.”
Walsh just missed another podium with a fourth-place finish in the super combined. He also placed sixth in the slalom and 15th in the super-G.
“This Games has been a little challenging because I had to deal with some COVID protocol stuff before I got here,” Walsh said. “For my first competition in the super-G, I was less than 48 hours in the country.”
Walsh, who had recovered from Ewing’s sarcoma in 2010, said he was so unsure if he would be at the Games that he actually unpacked his bags.
“That’s when I decided competing is a blessing,” said Walsh, “and anything that’s going to come of it is more of a blessing.”
Danelle Umstead and her guide, Rob Umstead, compete in the women's giant slalom at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 10, 2022 in Beijing.
Another U.S. alpine skier who felt blessed was Danelle Umstead of Park City, Utah. With her husband, Rob, serving as her guide in their fourth Paralympics together, the 50-year-old Umstead placed 13th in the women’s vision impaired giant slalom and didn’t finish the slalom.
“It feels great to be here again,” Umstead said. “My struggles over the past four years have been real and tough, and this is the first time I've been on the international circuit since the last Games due to injury and multiple sclerosis and everything.”
Umstead, a three-time Paralympic bronze medalist, pointed out that it’s been a long road to recovery since a February 2020 leg injury.
“It’s been three surgeries and a lot of stress and a lot of pain,” Umstead said. “I feel everything because I can’t see very well. The feeling in my boots, the feeling in my leg, everything I count on was taken away from me and I had to relearn it because I have MS on that side, too.
“It’s been a constant struggle, but it really feels good to just push out at the start, kind of get my anxiety out of the way a little bit.”
As the world watched the Paralympics, Umstead had a message.
“I just want them to see the beauty inside like we see in everybody else,” Umstead said. “We are not just disabled. We are strong women and men. There's a lot of ups and downs, like everybody else.”
Tyler Carter poses for a picture during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 9, 2022 in Beijing.
Defending gold medalist Andrew Kurka placed fourth in the men’s sitting downhill event. After nearly skiing to a medal, he had to depart the Games to recover from a broken humerus and thumb he suffered during an earlier training run.
“I was unable to move my body in the race (due to the injury) the way I wanted to,” Kurka wrote on Instagram after the race. “My time didn’t reflect the skill and work that I have put into these Games. So it is with a heavy heart, that I will be going home.”
Jesse Keefe of Bellevue, Idaho, at 17 the youngest member of the team, made an auspicious Paralympic debut. Keefe placed ninth in the men’s standing slalom, 15th in both the super combined and giant slalom, and 22nd in the downhill. Near the other end of the age spectrum was 42-year-old Jasmin Bambur, who returned for a fourth Games and scored a top 10 finish in sitting slalom.
As if those highlights weren’t enough, alpine skiers took center stage at the Opening Ceremony as Umstead and teammate Tyler Carter of Topton, Pennsylvania, served as flag bearers. Carter, making his third Paralympic appearance, was overjoyed.
“I called my dad right away when I found out, and he was over the moon excited,” Carter said to TeamUSA.org. “I was crying when I was telling him. This is a really cool way to end my athletic career and Games experience."
Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.