As Thomas Walsh underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and pelvic resection treatments, childhood friend Mikaela Shiffrin frequented his hospital bedside.
When he was 14 in 2009, Walsh was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer in his pelvis and lungs.
The Vail, Colo., native received the diagnosis one day before he was to leave to attend Green Mountain Valley School, a ski academy in Vermont, on a full scholarship. Walsh, a promising youth skier, was first coached by Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen.
Walsh received those treatments for 14 months before being declared cancer-free.
One of those days in the hospital, Shiffrin told Walsh that she had never been to a high school prom. “Mikaela said to me, ‘You better be around for that because you’re taking me to your prom,'” Walsh said, according to The New York Times.
Walsh did just that in 2012. Then in 2014, Walsh traveled to Sochi through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to watch his longtime friend compete in the Olympics.
It motivated Walsh to research para Alpine skiing. He debuted on the World Cup in 2015 and by 2017 competed at worlds.
Then on Sunday, the 23-year-old Walsh made his Paralympic debut, finishing 13th in the standing super-G in PyeongChang.
“It’s a whole bunch of emotions,” Walsh said on NBCSN. “As all of our athletes and people with disabilities, I know there’s a lot of different struggles. Competing in the Games is a pretty big dream of mine.”
Walsh was then shown a video screen of a taped message from Shiffrin, who was in Germany for World Cup competition.
“I wish I could hug you right now and tell you that we’re so proud of you,” Shiffrin said, sniffling back tears. “I love you.”
Walsh was taken aback.
“Mikaela may be a champion and a star and an international hero, some would say, to ski racing,” he said. “I’ll even say the greatest female ski racer of all time, but above it all she’s just one of my good friends. … You look at me now. I’m standing here talking to you. I look pretty normal. Mikaela was there when I was really in the dumps and life was really uncertain.”
Walsh is next scheduled to race in the super combined on Monday night (ET). NBCSN coverage of the Paralympics continues at 9 p.m.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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