Determined Walsh used to overcoming adversity

CATHERINE GAFFANEY
Last updated 05:00 08/04/2014
Tom Walsh
JOSEPH JOHNSON/Fairfax NZ
IN HIGH DEMAND: Tom Walsh conducts a telephone interview after being named yesterday in the New Zealand track and field team for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

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Tom Walsh has always been a determined type.

When he was seven years old, try as he might, he was operating below the reading, writing and spelling levels of his classmates.

After a series of tests, Walsh was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Recognising the disability only hardened his resolve.

He accepted he'd never be top of his class and admits he spent more time on sport than he did on schooling, yet his determination never wavered.

In high school he gained university entrance, despite not having much of a hankering for tertiary education.

The determination which drove him to succeed academically in spite of his disability speaks loudly of what lies behind his physical talent - determination and realism.

"If I'd had it my way when I was younger I would have gone to school just to play games and eat lunch, but then I came to realise I needed to do all right in school to get by," he said.

"Sports careers are limited. Whether I had one or not, I knew I had the rest of my life to contend with."

Now a professional athlete and part-time builder, Walsh divides his time between Christchurch, where he works for the city's largest residential firm Mike Greer Homes, and his hometown Timaru, where his parents and long-time coach Ian Baird live.

He's turned that boyhood determination into sporting success.

Last month he shocked the athletics world by winning bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Poland with an Oceanic record-breaking throw of 21.26 metres.

Two weeks later, he threw 21.16m at the IAAF World Challenge event in Melbourne, adding 0.55 centimetres to the New Zealand outdoor record he set last December.

And just 10 days ago he beat his longtime rival and world junior champion Jacko Gill in the most anticipated track and field showdown in decades. He'd already qualified for the July Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but it gave Walsh his fifth consecutive national title.

The determination that has carried him so far wasn't just his own; he credits his hardworking parents for instilling values in him which he stands by today.

"My parents instilled a strong working ethic in me and my brother from a young age.

"They weren't always well-off. They had to work hard for money.

"Dad started his business [a leading South Island livestock brokerage] from nothing and worked his way up.

"They had to work hard for everything they have."

Walsh's parents worked full-time throughout his schooling and the nanny he had as a child is a second mother to him.

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While they didn't hit the big time, Walsh's parents come from sporting backgrounds.

His father Peter won a New Zealand junior shot put title in the 1960s and played prop for the South Canterbury rugby side, which won the Ranfurly Shield in the 1970s.

His mother Karen was an athlete, but injured her back badly in a high-jump accident.

"They were keen on sport and encouraged us [Tom and his older brother Bill] to play as many as possible.

"At the start of the sporting seasons we'd decide which sports we wanted to play.

"They didn't push us in to anything, but they did encourage us to be committed.

"We liked getting out there and doing stuff."

Walsh's picks were athletics and cricket in summer and rugby and hockey in winter.

He was an all-round cricketer in age group for Canterbury and won three national titles, with future Black Caps Corey Anderson and Tom Latham among his team-mates.

He was good enough to be granted the Mark Parker scholarship, which saw him spending six months in England training and playing for Winchester College.

Healthy sibling rivalry spurred Walsh forward.

His brother Bill, who was granted the Mark Parker scholarship before him, is still a keen cricketer for the Grafton United Cricket Club in Auckland.

"Bill [who has an honours degree in law] got the brains and is good at sport. I knew I'd never be as smart as him but I could be better than him at sport; I knew I had the ability to do that," Walsh said.

He was introduced to shot put by his father when he was seven or eight. He went away from the sport for a few years but was drawn back.

Walsh said he chose to pursue shot put because rugby and cricket players are often selected on opinion, not on the statistics of how good they are.

"Athletics is black and white, your throw is either good enough to qualify or it's not, there's no grey area."

Plus he got "a bit bored" with rugby.

"I did the same drills for years, whereas in athletics there's plenty of variety. I do throws three or four times a week, and I do a lot of lifting and sprints."

Walsh said his mother would have loved him to pursue rugby, but she is proud of his shot putting success.

He got his first big break at 17 when he finished sixth at the Bressanone 2009 World Youth Championships.

In 2013, he was one centimetre short of qualifying for the Moscow World Championships. It was a definite lowlight for Walsh, but not the end of his career.

His streak of successes since has hurled him to the top of the national sporting stage and put him in good stead for winning his first ever Commonwealth Games medal.

Walsh said his ultimate goal is to win an Olympic medal of some colour at some point.

"I'm in shot put for the long haul. I will keep trying to go better and better at the World Champs, the Olympics and the Commonwealths for as long as my body allows me to."

Beyond shot put, a return to his roots could be on the cards.

"I'd like to get in to farming at some point, maybe on my parents' farm, or perhaps I'd help them with their business.

"The hours don't work as well with shot put as building does. There are time constraints, you can't leave jobs when you're on a farm and return to them the next day like you can with building."

- The Press

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