Military News

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Warrior Games Athlete’s Illness Strengthens Couple’s Bond



By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 28, 2015 – U.S. Special Operations Command veteran Sean Walsh earned silver medals in the 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke and a bronze medal in the 50-meter breaststroke in swimming competition yesterday at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Virginia, as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

He earned a bronze medal June 21 in the men’s upright cycling open category, and he will compete here today in the men’s 4-by-100-meter relay and the 1,500-meter run.

Walsh said doesn’t really pay attention to whether he earns medals when he competes. Between competitions, he visits with his wife of six years, Caroline, and their 15-month old son, Tommy.

“It’s incredible to have her out here -- to have her see me race at this level in this state is absolutely incredible -- so I’m very, very fortunate to have her in my life,” he said.

How They Met

Walsh had just graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, and was in Beijing when he met Caroline. “We were both studying Chinese,” she said. “He had just graduated from West Point, and one of his former roommates was in my language study program, so we all went out to dinner together. I always think very fondly about his friend who introduced us.”

Illness

Walsh started as an infantry officer, but crossed over after four years into civil affairs. The former captain said he went out for a run while he was deployed three years ago, and he got so tired e didn’t know if he would be able to make it back.

“I went from doing half Ironmans and training for a marathon and then suddenly, I couldn’t run at all,” he said. “I’m in the middle of nowhere, and it was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it back.’ Unfortunately, it was the most tired I had ever been in my life.”

Caroline Walsh said she was in graduate school in New Jersey, and her husband was at Fort Bragg in North Carolina after he returned from overseas, and he told her he needed to go to the doctor.

“He called me a little later that afternoon and said, ‘I’m actually going to have to go into the [intensive care unit]. I’ve got Type 1 diabetes,” she recalled. “It was just something that never crossed our minds, so I just jumped in the car and sped down. From the minute I got to the hospital, everybody was wonderful. The support was just fantastic, even though it was terrifying and [he had] a new life to adjust to.

Walsh now wears a pump that provides him with insulin 24 hours a day.

Support

Caroline helps him keep his insulin in check, Walsh said. “There’s been a bunch of times where I’ve gotten too low, like I give myself too much insulin and my blood sugar drops, and she’s been there to take care of me, and that’s been incredibly supportive,” he said. “I can’t imagine her not being there. I would’ve been very lost without having her there. It would’ve been much tougher, because I was also part of a common identity. … I’m not a soldier [any more], but I’m still a husband, and I have to concentrate on that. She’s my rock.” Caroline said she is proud of how her husband is handling his illness.

“He’s handling it really well. I’m really proud of him,” she said. “There are hard days, and there are things that are frustrating. It just sort of adds a new level of complication to life, but he’s doing great, and in some ways, I think it’s made him more determined. I think it’s maybe made him a more focused athlete, and it’s made him more grateful for everything that he has.”

The illness has made them a stronger couple, she added.

“It also made us realize that we could really deal with anything, and I think it’s made us [stronger],” she added. “It happened before Tommy was born, but I think it’s made us stronger parents too, because we know what we’re capable of.”

Pursuing Excellence

Walsh said he swam in high school and a little bit at West Point, and that he uses adaptive sports to control his illness and to reassert that control over his life by training.

“I got a coach. I got all the great things that the Military Adaptive Sports Program offers, and I was able to use that to help control my diabetes,” he said. “It was really phenomenal. When I got sick, and I had to leave the military, I was like, ‘This is my new identity.’

“I’m going to become the best athlete I can,” he continued. “And when I say the best athlete, I don’t mean about winning races -- it’s about being the best that you can be and pursuing excellence.”

Walsh added that this has translated beyond sport, providing the drive and dedication to be a great father, a great husband and a great worker. His goal, he said, is to become elite enough to join an all-diabetic pro cycling team and join a diabetic triathlon club so he can inspire others with diabetes

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