AUSTIN (KXAN) — Patricia Walsh is changing the image of an elite athlete.
Blind since she was a child, Walsh is a world class triathlete and a world record holder in the Iron Man. She hopes to compete in the 2016 Paralympics, where she figures to be among the favorites to medal in the triathlon.
Walsh did not begin to exercise until her twenties, while witnessing her father’s health decline. “He had two strokes, two heart attacks and I realized I was on that same track,” she said. “So at the time I got it in my head to run a marathon.”
Many of Walsh’s friends worried that it was unsafe for her to exercise. Without a training partner, she began by jogging a mile without a sighted guide.
“One of the interesting problems I think people with disabilities face is sometimes people have the best intentions but they try to discourage you from doing things that are good for you because they fear you’re going to get hurt,” Walsh said.
“I ran a mile and I could barely finish a mile and I came back battered and bruised. Any obstacle there was to fall on, I fell on it. I came back and actually I was thrilled. As much as I was beat up, no serious damage had happened. I was bruised but we weren’t in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room.”
Walsh guides herself by running with her foot on top of the edge of the track.
After achieving her first goal of completing a marathon, Walsh transitioned to triathlons. Despite not having ridden a bike since before losing her vision and not knowing how to swim, Walsh shattered the Iron Man world record for blind athletes in 2011.
Walsh admits that it tests her patience when she’s thought of as, “a charity case.”
“I really pride myself on trying to hold myself to the same standards as the sighted, able body athletes,” Walsh said. “People mean well but they kid, they’re trying to relate to you and they’ll say, ‘you won for the blind girls’ and I’ll say, ‘I also won against you.”
Without the sponsorships afforded to many elite able bodied athletes, Walsh trains around a full time job as an engineer with an Austin based software company. She is a motivational speaker and has begun writing a book.
With all that she has accomplished, Walsh believes the best is still ahead.
“I’m so excited about the success I’ve already had that I just feel like the potential is limitless. I know that sounds a little cliché, but very seriously I don’t know where that limit is going to be and I just want to push it until I can’t push it anymore,” she said.