AUSTIN (KXAN) — By 3 p.m. on any given afternoon, Patricia Walsh has already put in three to five hours of training. For the past six years she’s been working for this moment, to compete in the Paralympics.
Walsh is one of eight Americans representing the United States for the Paratriathlon in Rio de Janeiro. It’s the first year the event has been included in the games.
“I know that there have been times when people have misunderstood what Paralympics is, as more of a participatory competition, when really the standard for some of the events is just as challenging as the standard for the Olympic qualifiers,” said Walsh.
In 1986 Walsh had a pediatric brain tumor which caused her initial vision loss. Post operation complication caused the loss of her remaining residual vision, and she ultimately lost her vision at age 14.
But today, Walsh says she doesn’t let her blindness define her.
“Most of my setbacks had to do with people who were most likely well intentioned but giving me the messaging that a person with a disability could not be successful,” remembers Walsh. “What really got me through then was an inherent belief that, that did not sound right to me, and I wouldn’t be any worse off if I tried and did fail.”
She tried, and excelled. Though not without challenges, Walsh has clinched world titles, crushed Ironman triathlons and continues to push herself every day.
“The truth of the matter is I fall almost every time I run, but I’m so good at falling, that I get back up and I’m ok!”
She hopes to inspire young people with disabilities, because she never had a role model of her own.
“Because if you let it, your disability will define you,” says Walsh. “I don’t want my blindness to be my defining characteristic. It’s an attribute just like anything else, something I have to deal with. I don’t feel sad about it, I don’t feel like it’s the worse thing that’s ever happened.”
She believes this is going to be a breakthrough year for the Paralympics. It will be the biggest yet, with more than 4,300 athletes competing in 22 sports. There will also be 66 hours of television coverage compared to just over five hours for the London 2012 Paralympics.
“Of course my race is exciting and my race is important to me, but I’m almost more excited of just feeling like a part of people with disabilities being taken more seriously for what they’re capable of doing.”
During the course in Rio, Walsh will have a trusted guide by her side. They’ll rely on coordination, team work and a lot of trust.
“As a blind adult it’s so exciting for me to have an ambition of setting a standard of an elite athlete with a disability, whose on par with elite athletes who are able-bodied.”
The Paralympics will kick off in September, and Walsh’s race is on Sept.11.