Diagnosed with a severe pediatric brain tumor, Patricia Walsh became blind at age five due to complications of a surgery. As a teenager, battling homelessness and abuse, she struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. Today, Patricia is a world champion triathlete and award-winning engineer. She has raced in over 10 marathons and ultra-marathons. When a friend first mentioned triathlons to her two years ago, she immediately signed up for the Ironman — before even owning a bike! Last year, she set the world record for blind athletes, blowing away previous female and male records by over 80 minutes. Patricia has a degree in computer science, becoming one of the first blind engineers at Microsoft. Patricia is the National Champion for the Olympic distance and recently secured Bronze for the United States in the Short Course World Championship in Beijing, China 2011.
Patricia Walsh - Para National Champion & Herman Ironman World Record Holder
I’ve been blind for 15 years. I can’t see my hand at the end of my arm. Don’t be surprised if you didn’t know that, even the people I am around daily don’t always realize how little I see. I have a 6 degree tunnel of light, dark, and motion.
If your moving around I’ll probably get you, if you’re standing still I’ll miss you every time. It is for this reason that I really hate hanging plants.
I lost the bulk of my vision at the age of 14. I had been on track to graduate high school early. I had taken high school level math courses in the 7th and 8th grade in order to get ahead. I had a pediatric brain tumor in 1986 which caused the initial vision loss, followed by some post operation complications that caused the loss of the remaining residual vision.
I found myself at the school for the blind in Vancouver WA learning how to read Braille. One day I was the top of my class, the next I was straining to read “See Jane run”. My transition from being able bodied to being disabled happened in the flash of an eye.
I had been spoon-fed the idea that a person living with a severe disability stood no chance of contributing anything meaningful to the world around them. To attempt anything bigger and better than a menial job would be an exercise in failure. My self-esteem was abysmal, my ambitious nature was a high powered mental hamster wheel making me miserable, and my hope for my own future was dim.
Self-esteem is the force that pushes the mass to accelerate, without Self-esteem the soul cannot accelerate. My pursuit of athletics helped to repair my self esteem.
Fifteen years later it’s obvious that there was a change, and the change is this, I had a revelation. I saw clear as day that if I didn’t make changes at the young age of 19 that I never would.
I started taking on major challenges. I knew with every step forward that I could simply prove everyone right, that this next challenge could be a failure I’d have to explain for the rest of my life. The conclusion I came to was that I’d rather live my life as a person who failed gracefully than as a person who never made the attempt.
There was a trail near my house. I was overweight and out of shape. I started running every day. The first time I ran a full mile I was in shock that nothing bad had happened, The first time I ran 8 miles I was astonished at how far my legs could take me, The first time I ran a half marathon I knew in no uncertain terms this was no exercise in failure.
I have sense completed 11 full length marathons, qualified for Boston Marathon multiple times making a lifelong dream come true. As well as completing 2 full length Iron Man competitions; recently crushing the record for low vision / blind male and females. This past summer I won the para athlete national championship for triathlon. I was not only the fastest in the visually impaired division, but I was the fastest female over all. recently I took 3rd on the world stage for the short course representing my country as part of Team USA in Beijing, CH.
From where I stand now I feel I only have one option that is to do everything possible to help others feel the same sense of empowerment.
Learning to run changed my life. Through each incremental victory I saw my hope for the future brighten. I have the opportunity to help others see that same light by setting an example of someone who lives to be fulfilled, happy, and accomplished. To live an example of someone who has a disability, but is not defined by that lack of ability.
Blind Ambition: Life story of discovering a pediatric Brain tumor at the age of 5 to then become a Paralympic hopeful.
Patricia Walsh was hospitalized in 1986 for the removal of a severe pediatric brain tumor that was the cause of her
vision loss. Patricia was ill as a result of the tumor for most of her young life. Patricia then lost the remaining
partial vision at the age of 14 due to complications of the previous surgery that were not correctable. Patricia’s teen
years were riddled with depression, anger, frustration, and hopelessness. Patricia later became a successful engineer,
athlete, and avid volunteer. Patricia believes her willingness to take on challenges at the risk of failure is what
enabled her to overcome the trauma of losing her sight.
Inspire Yourself: How to get out of bed in the morning every morning.
It is an individual’s responsibility and privilege to provide their life’s inspiration. Patricia explains a goal
hierarchy. The top level is the goal that inspires a person. This is what change you want to make in your sport/
industry that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning. The second level goal is in determining what has to
happen to get you there. What are the wins that have to occur in order to be able to make the change? The base level is
what actions have to happen daily to support the greater vision.
Take a chainsaw to your Impossibilities.
Dream big, the impossible may not be so impossible. All problems can be broken down into smaller problems that can then
be solved. There is power in a willingness to take on a big risk. There is surface area for future accomplishments in
evaluating the seemingly impossible for what it really is, possible. Patricia speaks to the ways that we as
professionals can empower our own success.
Areas of focus:
Goal Setting, Maximizing Life, Engineering, Motivation, Success, Attitude, Performance, Productivity, Employee
Motivation, Business Goal Setting, Life Balance, Association Speaker, Inspirational Key Note, Entrepreneur Speaker,
Leadership, Charismatic Leadership, Employee Engagement, Leadership Excellence, Executive Leadership Training,
Organizational Leadership, Women In Leadership, Global Leadership, Youth Speaking, Youth Inspiration, Disability