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Skiing bonds Shiffrin and Paralympian who overcame cancer

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Ten years ago, Mikaela Shiffrin visited a friend and fellow ski racer in the hospital who was diagnosed with cancer.

Thomas Walsh could barely sit up or eat and later had parts of his pelvis and lung removed due to the tumors. Shiffrin grew up skiing with Walsh, the two sharing a similar instructor in Shiffrin’s mom and an equally similar passion for the slopes.

His condition hit Shiffrin hard.

Zip forward to the present: Walsh is a rising Paralympian fresh off a season in which he captured the overall World Cup slalom title – just like Shiffrin – and earned two bronze medals at the world Para Alpine championships.

His success now melts the two-time Olympic champion’s heart.

“He has that kind of `zest-for-life’ that is very rare, very contagious, and cannot be stifled. Not even by cancer,” said the 24-year-old Shiffrin, who wrapped up a season in which she won 17 World Cup races and her third straight overall title. “Thomas was always a much better athlete than I was. He was literally good at everything. I mean, everything. Skiing, soccer, a triathlon, dancing, acting, singing, school – you name it. He did it all and he was always the best.”

Cancer just forced him to take a slight detour.

Growing up in Vail, Colorado, he naturally took to the mountains. Walsh met Shiffrin in kindergarten and they became teammates on Ski Club Vail. He and Shiffrin learned to ski under Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen. He was talented, too, and was accepted into the Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont, which has produced such notable racers as Daron Rahlves and AJ Kitt.

About then, Walsh noticed something was wrong. An accomplished triathlete at the time, it bothered him to sit on his bike. Then, to sit in regular chairs.

On May 28, 2009, Walsh was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones.

It was Stage 4. The disease started in his pelvis and spread to his lungs. He began chemo treatments.

“Up to that point in my life, I had never really known anybody with cancer,” said the 24-year-old Walsh, who captured a giant slalom national crown this week at the U.S. Paralympic Alpine championships in Winter Park, Colorado. “I very quickly learned much more than I wanted to.”

That October, he underwent a resection that removed key bones from his pelvis. There went his ski racing career.

Or so he thought.

“As with every traumatic event, it takes a little minute for it to settle in – for the bigger picture to come into play,” Walsh said.

Three months later, he convinced his doctor to allow him to hit the slopes. Just a few turns on the beginner’s hill.

“Emotionally, it was way impactful,” said Walsh, who also suffers from lymphedema, a progressive disease that causes his leg to swell. “It was an emotional rescue where I said skiing is what I want to do.”

But he didn’t know anything about the Paralympic movement. Not yet, anyway.

After dealing with cancer treatments for a year, he attended Green Mountain Valley where he returned to racing and got more involved in theater. He starred in the production of “Anything Goes,” with Shiffrin showing up in the audience.

“There was a whole tap-dancing scene and he was front and center, tapping like crazy and singing at the top of his lungs, and I was just balling in the audience because I just felt like he was shining like a star,” recalled Shiffrin, who was attending nearby Burke Mountain Academy. “It was a gift just to be able to watch.”

The friends also attended a “ski-academy” prom together in 2013.

“When I was sick, we had a pact that we’d go to prom together,” Walsh said. “It was fun.”

Turns out, he’s a skillful teacher, too, as he turned the graceful slalom artist into a confident dancer.

“I was so shy and didn’t want to dance,” Shiffrin said. “You could tell he was the best dancer in the room. … I was baffled because I actually looked like I kind of knew what I was doing. That’s the kind of stuff that Thomas is able to do.”

Following high school, Walsh attended Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia to study performing arts. It also provided a test: To see if he would miss the thrill of ski racing.

He did.

About that time, he and his mom, Kathleen, learned he could be classified as a disabled ski racer because of his pelvic resection. So he embarked on a path to become a Paralympian .

This only sharpened his determination: Using his Make-A-Wish request, Walsh attended the 2014 Sochi Games and was there when Shiffrin won the slalom gold medal. He posed for pictures with her and imagined that maybe one day he could have a similar moment.

Like Shiffrin, his specialties are the slalom and giant slalom. And like Shiffrin, he’s also incorporating the super-G. His idols include Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher, American Steven Nyman and, of course, Shiffrin.

A year ago, Walsh took fifth in the slalom and seventh in the GS at the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Now, he’s setting his sights on the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing.

In his corner? Shiffrin, of course.

“Thomas and the way his life and his story have evolved, and the role that he now played in the Paralympic family and as one of the top athletes competing, I realize that it is the most inspirational comeback story I have ever witnessed,” Shiffrin said. “And even though that was never the intention, it is incredible.”

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Shiffrin wins giant slalom race to seal World Cup title

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SOLDEU, Andorra — Another race won, another crystal trophy earned, another World Cup record written by Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin won a giant slalom Sunday to seal the season-long standings title and, while shedding a few tears in the finish area, lifted a record-tying fourth World Cup crystal globe in the same season.

“I wanted to come out here today and really earn it. Really earn it and deserve it,” said Shiffrin, whose 17th World Cup win this season extended her own record.

A fourth discipline title in one season matched the women’s World Cup record jointly held by Lindsey Vonn (2010, 2012) and Tina Maze (2013).

Shiffrin needed only a top-15 finish to ensure closest challenger Petra Vlhova could not overhaul the American star’s points total.

Instead, the Olympic giant slalom champion retained her first-run lead in style to finish 0.30 seconds ahead of 17-year-old Alice Robinson. Vlhova was third, 0.41 back.

While Shiffrin is the undisputed current star of women’s Alpine skiing, a bright future was seen Sunday for Robinson. She earned her World Cup finals entry by winning the giant slalom at the junior world championships last month.

The New Zealand prospect got her first career podium when just six months older than Shiffrin was getting her first top-3 finish, in a December 2011 slalom.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Robinson told Swiss broadcaster RTS. “It’s crazy, so cool to share the first podium with Petra and Mikaela. They’re such great skiers.”

Shiffrin’s four crystal globes tops the three earned by the men’s standout Marcel Hirscher.

Hirscher already clinched the slalom titles, and a record-extending eighth straight overall title, before the final race Sunday.

Seeming fatigued by a long season, Hirscher was sixth-fastest in the first run, trailing 1.43 behind Clement Noel in what could be his last World Cup race.

The 30-year-old Hirscher said Saturday after placing sixth in giant slalom that he could spend next season with his young family “cooking and holding the baby.”

“I’m thinking about this every day,” Hirscher said of possibly retiring, acknowledging he has a “very hard decision” in the next two weeks.

Noel took a clear lead with only the tall Swiss teammates Ramon Zenhaeusern and Daniel Yule within a second of his time on another sun-soaked day in Andorra.

The 2-meter (6-feet-6) Zenhaeusern was 0.84 back, and the 1.87-meter (6-feet-2) Yule had 0.95 to make up in the afternoon second run.

Yule has pledged half his prize money Sunday to a non-profit agency campaigning against climate change, and was on track to earn 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,000) for third place.

What to watch this week in Olympic sports: Shiffrin’s season finale

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Mikalea Shiffrin’s incredible 2018-19 season will come to a close this week at the World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra, where Shiffrin is expected to ski for two more crystal globes. The women’s super-G and giant slalom crystal globes are still up for grabs, with Shiffrin holding point leads in both disciplines.

On Wednesday the men’s and women’s downhill kicks off the event, but Thursday will be the draw for U.S. fans hoping to see Shiffrin clinch her first ever globe in a speed event. She came close at the end of the 2017-18 season when she finished fifth in the World cup downhill standings.

Shiffrin’s second chance at a globe this week comes on Sunday in the women’s giant slalom.

Watch the women’s super-G live on Thursday beginning at 5:30 a.m. ET on TV and streaming on Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold, with an encore presentation airing on NBCSN on TV at 11:00 a.m. ET.

To see if Shiffrin can win the giant slalom crystal globe, watch the first run live on Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m. and the second run at 7:00 a.m. Live first run action will be streaming on OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold, with the second run airing live on TV and streaming with Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold.

Another huge name in U.S. Olympic sports, gymnast Simone Biles, will make her season debut this week at the World Cup event in Stuttgart, Germany.

At the 2018 World Championships in Doha, the four-time Olympic gold medalist, helped the U.S. win its fourth-straight team title, then became the first woman to win four all-around world titles. Biles also won gold in Doha in the apparatus finals in the floor and vault and took home silver on the uneven bars and bronze on balance beam.

Check out the full schedule below for times, events and where to watch live on TV and streaming.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP FINAL — Soldeu, Andorra

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Wednesday 5:30 a.m. Men’s & Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m. Men’s & Women’s Downhill* NBCSN
Thursday 5:30 a.m. Men’s & Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:00 p.m. Men’s & Women’s Super-G* NBCSN
Friday 7:00 a.m. Team Event Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 4:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
8:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Women’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Women’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
8:00 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
3:30 p.m. Women’s Giant Slalom* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

BIATHLON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS — Oestersund, Sweden

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 10:30 a.m. Women’s 15km Individual Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Wednesday 12:30 a.m. Women’s 15km Individual* NBCSN
11:00 a.m. Men’s 20km Individual Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
4:00 p.m. Men’s 20km Individual* NBCSN
Thursday 12:00 p.m. Single Mixed Relay Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Friday 1:00 a.m. Single Mixed Relay* NBCSN
Saturday 8:15 a.m. Women’s 4x6km Relay OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 a.m. Men’s 4×7.5km Relay OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m. Women’s 4x6km Relay* Olympic Channel
1:30 p.m. Men’s 4×7.5km Relay* Olympic Channel
Sunday 8:15 a.m. Women’s 12.5km Mass Start OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. Women’s 12.5km Mass Start* Olympic Channel
11:00 a.m. Men’s 15km Mass Start Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold

*Same-day and next-day delay

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING WORLD CUP — Drammen, Norway; Falun, Sweden

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 8:15 a.m. Men’s & Women’s Sprint Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. Men’s & Women’s Sprint* NBCSN
Saturday 9:30 a.m. Men’s & Women’s Sprint Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 6:30 a.m. Women’s 10km NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Men’s 15km NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m. Women’s 10km* Olympic Channel
1:00 p.m. Women’s 10km* Olympic Channel
2:00 p.m. Men’s 15km* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

CURLING WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP — Silkeborg, Denmark

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 9:00 a.m. Russia vs. Switzerland OlympicChannel.com
9:00 a.m. Japan vs. Scotland OlympicChannel.com
2:30 p.m. South Korea vs. Canada OlympicChannel.com
2:30 p.m. USA vs. Denmark Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:00 a.m. Canada vs. Germany OlympicChannel.com
4:00 a.m. USA vs. Japan OlympicChannel.com
9:00 a.m. Germany vs. Japan OlympicChannel.com
9:00 a.m. Switzerland vs. Sweden OlympicChannel.com
2:00 p.m. South Korea vs. USA OlympicChannel.com
2:00 p.m. Latvia vs. Canada OlympicChannel.com
4:30 p.m. USA vs. Japan* Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m. South Korea vs. USA* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

FENCING GRAND PRIX — Anaheim, California

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Sunday 9:30 p.m. From Anaheim, California OlympicChannel.com

FREESTYLE SKIING WORLD CUP — Mammoth Lakes, California; Quebec City, Quebec; Veysonnaz, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 12:30 a.m. Freeski: Slopestyle – Toyota U.S. Grand Prix* NBCSN
Saturday 4:00 p.m. Big Air OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 6:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

*Encore presentation

GYMNASTICS WORLD CUP — Baku, Azerbaijan; Stuttgart, Germany

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 4:00 a.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:15 a.m. Men’s Indiv. All-Around OlympicChannel.com
5:30 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1)* Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m. Men’s Indiv. All-Around* Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:00 a.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2) OlympicChannel.com
7:15 a.m. Women’s Indiv. All-Around OlympicChannel.com
2:00 p.m. Women’s Indiv. All-Around* Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m. Women’s Indiv. All-Around* NBCSN
10:30 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

NORDIC COMBINED WORLD CUP — Schonach, Germany

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6:00 a.m. HS106 OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. 10km OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 6:00 a.m. HS106 OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. 15km OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

SNOWBOARDING WORLD CUP — Mammoth Lakes, California; Veysonnaz, Switzerland; Quebec City, Quebec

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 9:15 a.m. Snowboard Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 8:00 p.m. Big Air OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
12:00 p.m. Halfpipe – Toyota U.S. Grand Prix* NBC

*Encore presentation

SKI JUMPING WORLD CUP — Nizhny Tagil, Russia; Raw Air Tournament Norway

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Monday 12:30 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv. (Qualifying) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Tuesday 12:00 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv. OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
3:00 p.m. Raw Air – Women’s Indiv. OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv.* Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Raw Air – Women’s Indiv.* Olympic Channel
Wednesday 12:30 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv. (Qualifying) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
2:30 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv.* NBCSN
Thursday 9:00 a.m. Raw Air – Women’s Indiv. OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
12:00 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv. OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
3:00 p.m. Raw Air – Women’s Indiv.* Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv.* Olympic Channel
Friday 12:30 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv. Ski Flying (Qualifying) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 8:00 a.m. Women’s Indiv. OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
12:00 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Team Ski Flying OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 8:00 a.m. Women’s Indiv. Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
12:00 p.m. Raw Air – Men’s Indiv. Ski Flying OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:00 p.m. Women’s Indiv.* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

SPEED SKATING WORLD CUP FINAL — Salt Lake City, Utah

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Monday 11:30 p.m. Day 2* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

SHORT TRACK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS — Sofia, Bulgaria

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Monday 1:00 a.m. From Sofia, Bulgaria NBCSN

MEN’S WRESTLING WORLD CUP — Yakutsk, Russia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 10:00 p.m. Session 1 Olympic Channel
Saturday 3:30 a.m. Session 2 Olympic Channel
10:00 p.m. Session 3 Olympic Channel
Sunday 2:15 a.m. Bronze Medal Match Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
4:00 a.m. Gold Medal Match Olympic Channel Olympic Channel