Local boy captures national triathlon title
AVON ” Winning a national championship takes dedication.
And, sometimes a little blood.
A pear-sized scab on the side of Thomas Walsh’s left leg is the mark of a champion.
“I fell on the transition coming from the bike to the run,” 10-year-old Thomas said. “My leg was bleeding the whole run.”
When Thomas crossed the finish line at 18 minutes with blood running down his leg, he waited, then looked at the scoreboard.
He realized he had won the 2005 USA Triathlon Youth National Championship in New Orleans, La., last Saturday. The course for his 9-10-year-old age group started with a 100-meter swim, continued with a 5K bike ride, and finished with a 1K run.
“It was really cool because it was my first national event, and I won,” Thomas said.
The second-place finisher, Benjamin Brown of Colorado Springs, clocked in at 18:01, which gave Thomas an extra bit of satisfaction.
“We are kind of rivals,” Thomas said. “He had beaten me in regionals and a few other times. I was excited to finally beat him.”
Planning for the trip to nationals in New Orleans took a lot more than booking the flight.
“We sat down this summer when he decided to go to nationals and did a calendar together on what we should do with training,” said Thomas’s mother, Kathleen.
Ambitious summer plans for a fifth-grader, but his mom knows that is still a kid.
“I had to encourage him a few days to stick to the calendar, especially for the swimming,” Kathleen said. “You have to be somewhat flexible, but he is pretty self-motivated.”
Thomas trained most weeks, biking, swimming, and running on separate days. He would take some days off, or train a little lighter when he was too tired.
Four wheels at 4 years old was too much for Thomas. After all, he’d been on two skis for two years at that point.
“He started skiing when he was 2, and at 4 he was on his two wheeler,” Kathleen said.
While some parents might have worried about a 4 year old biking around, Kathleen didn’t seem to mind.
“He’s pretty safe. He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” she said.
The trust has grown, and now, if you are driving down US Highway 6, you may find Thomas riding his bike to soccer practice, all the way from Vail to Edwards.
“My coaches didn’t believe me when I told them I rode my bike to practice,” Thomas said.
If there are any doubters, they can just ask his mom about his energy level.
“When he was little, I had him run laps around the house to wear him out before bed,” Kathleen said. “I’m lucky he has a lot of energy and a love for the outdoors.”
Thomas played sports since he could walk. He competed in his first triathlon two years ago at an Ironkids event in Denver. He entered the race without training, and finished second. His athleticism and passion for outdoor sports mixed well on the course, and he took an instant liking to triathlons.
“It seemed like he was into it, and wanted to the different parts as cross-training for skiing,” Kathleen said.
A lot of skiers use swimming, biking and running for training, but not too many become national triathlete champions in the process.
“A lot of kids are diversifying sports,” Kathleen said. “His ski coaches were really good about allowing him to do other sports. He was able to play hockey and did some Nordic ski races.”
It’s hard to keep track of all the sports Thomas plays, but his mom is optimistic about his involvement, and worried that pushing kids too hard in a specific sport can burn them out.
“At 10 years old, I don’t think children should have to pick a sport,” Kathleen said.
But, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a favorite.
“Well, I like them all, but I like biking best,” Thomas said of the triathlon events.
Winter is a different story, however, and 10 years from now, Thomas hopes to be on the U.S. Olympic team for skiing. “Or triathlon,” he added.
The race home
For Thomas and Kathleen, there was more on their minds than just the triathlon. Hurricane Katrina was looming.
“We were scheduled to leave New Orleans Monday afternoon, and Thomas had just crossed the finish line and I was lucky enough to get on the phone and get a flight out at 6 a.m. on Sunday,” Kathleen said. “Seeing the evacuation and the highways, it left a big impression on us.”
While most triathletes rest after a competition, Thomas was afforded no such luxury. Thomas had to get up around 4 a.m. When his mom had to go return a rental car Sunday morning, he lugged all five of their bags, including his bike case, which weighs more than he does, through the New Orleans airport by himself.
“It’s not everyday you get to go to New Orleans and evacuate,” Thomas said. “I feel really bad for the people down there, so I want to start a fundraiser for them.”
Back on the circuit
This weekend, before Thomas will start fifth grade at Vail Mountain School, he plans on competing in the Tri-America Triathlon here in Avon and Vail. Ski season is right around the corner, and then there is the National Triathlon Championships next year. He’ll be 11, so he’ll have to train a bit harder for the double distances in all events.
“It’s going to be harder because it’s longer, but I’m probably going to do pretty well like I did this year.
Check vaildaily.com/sports for a short video of Thomas Walsh.
Sports writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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