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Life of US Alpine skier has been an uphill battle

Nathan Fenno, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

"To see him with leg braces and crutches and not being able to walk at all and given less than a 10 percent chance of living to now being one of the best in the world," Nyman said. "He was told he might never be able to walk again, let alone ski."

Nyman brushed back tears: "He's an inspiration."

Doctors declared Walsh cancer-free after 14 hellish months. He finally made it to the ski academy in Vermont. But the trial wasn't over. Walsh had to relearn how to walk, run and ski. He struggled to remember his phone number thanks to side effects from chemotherapy, among other complications. By 2012, though, he took Shiffrin to the Green Mountain Valley School's prom in Waitsfield, Vt.

"He's had a very, very difficult recovery," Shiffrin said. "A very tough road."

In February 2014, Walsh traveled to the Sochi Games through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. On a raw, rainy day, he surprised Shiffrin after she finished fifth in the giant slalom. He had stopped skiing after a brief comeback. Watching Shiffrin and Nyman compete triggered his return. He learned about Paralympic alpine skiing, where he could compete in the LW4 classification because part of his pelvis has been removed.

Walsh joined the U.S. Paralympics national team in December 2015. Less than two months later, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, he won his first International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup race. He hasn't slowed since.

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"I really want to do some damage," said Walsh, who ranks among the world's best in his classification in four events and found time to graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design last year.

He looks like your typical athlete. Two boots, two poles, two skis, an ever-present grin. Apart from the difficulty in tugging a ski boot on his right foot -- the problem is improving -- the disability is internal.

The biggest issue, like other Paralympic hopefuls, is money. On podiums, he wears a hat with "Mom" written on it where a title sponsor's logo would usually go. That's in honor of his mother, Kathleen, and a plea for help funding his career.

"Never mind being a broke college kid, I'm trying to fund a hugely expensive athletic career," Walsh said. "It really hits home to me, saying, 'I'm out here trying to do it on my own.' I'm making a few breakthroughs, but I'm not able to support myself."

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