21st May 2019
FUTURES IN FOCUS: HARRISON WALSH
F44 discus thrower Harrison Walsh (coach: Anthony Hughes; club: DSW Para Academy) is using the experience he gained during his indoor season to reap rewards ahead of the biggest outdoor season of his career to date.
Walsh came away from the British University Championships (BUCS) in Bedford gleaming as he secured personal bests in the shot put and the discus whilst representing Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Contrastingly, competing at BUCS indoors, Walsh left with mixed feelings but in a positive frame of mind as to where the next phases of his development will lead.
He said: “It’s nice to see the hard work that has gone in over the winter period. I had two comps over the winter period where one thing had gone wrong in one and then something else in another.
“Discus is such a fine art because if you get one thing wrong it can go very wrong but it all came together at BUCS and just clicked and I was very happy with that. The best description I can give of it is by saying that the shot put is like a penalty and the discus is like a free kick because when you nail a free kick and you see it fly and it goes into the top corner there’s no better feeling.
“BUCS indoors wasn’t what I wanted but what I needed. I was competing with the full weight the whole time and I learnt so much. I learnt about different speeds of shoes and circles because the circle in Sheffield was really fast and I’ve never thrown on something like that before.
“It was challenging for me to understand what to do and how to cope with it and go from there but I’ve taken that into my season. It was a combination of a really fast circle and really fast shoes and that was something that I learnt that I can take throughout the season. The process is still ongoing and failure only helps you.”
It’s a process that started back in 2015. A former Wales Under-20 international and professional rugby player for the Ospreys, Walsh’s career was ended in a freak incident in the last moments of a club match.
As he stepped over an opposing player, his knee dislocated and gave way beneath him. In that one moment, Walsh tore his ACL, PCL, LCL, bicep femoris, popliteus, bursas and most importantly, the common peroneal nerve, leaving him with no dorsiflexion and little plant flexion in his left foot.
Whilst coaching at the Ospreys in the hope of still having a career in rugby, a fellow coach put him in touch with Anthony Hughes and the rest is history.
Walsh explained: “I didn’t really know what to do once I’d retired from rugby. I was the forwards coach for the Under-16s at the Ospreys and I was working for my parents in a hotel restaurant. I spoke to one of the coaches at Ospreys who worked for the council in disabled sport and inclusivity in Swansea and asked if I considered myself to be disabled.
“I had no idea and at no point had we even thought about that because we were trying to get me back into full-time rugby again. He mentioned he knew someone called Anthony and gave him a call.
“Within a week we went to see him at the NIAC (National Indoor Athletics Centre) to have a go at throwing and that’s basically it. I did have a conversation with some people at GB Rowing but I liked the throwing because it was hard and I wasn’t very good at it, making it something I could focus on.
“I’ve got the build for discus and thought why not give it a go. Why discus instead of shot some might ask, that’s because discus is in Tokyo and it’s as simple as that. Realistically I’m built better for shot but it’s not going to hurt training for both. I have people like Aled Davies to take example from because he can do both very well and why not do both if you can.”
Walsh’s emergence and strong performances in the sport have seen him placed on the British Athletics Paralympic Futures Academy Programme, which supports athletes towards the goal of medalling at future Paralympic Games and World Para Athletics European and World Championships.
Having always dreamt of pulling on the red jersey and representing his country, a whole new avenue has opened up for him and the prospect of earning his first British vest is something that he is relishing.
He added: “Being on Futures is amazing. Growing up you’d watch the Paralympic Games and the Olympic Games and I never thought I’d get the opportunity to compete there because I was playing rugby but it’s amazing now to have that chance.
“To have someone that is supporting you and actually agreeing with you that you can do this and tell you that you are good enough is awesome.
“Personally, I’ve benefited most from the coaching so far. I can’t express enough how much that has helped and even having someone come down to Cardiff to see me, the commitment shown by British Athletics shows me that there is belief in me and that’s only helpful to me.
“Looking ahead, Futures will also enable me to go to Grosseto to compete on the international stage later this year, where I’ll also go through international classification, but there’s one big event at the end of the year we’re all aiming for in the World Championships.”
From starting in the sport to now, Walsh has made good progress and currently tops the British rankings following his personal best throw at BUCS.
The carrot dangling for him is the opportunity to wear his first Great Britain vest and feels like once he has accomplished that, all his hard work will have paid off.
“I love athletics, I really do. I can’t imagine not doing it. The amount of time I played rugby is starting to get further and further away and I’m starting to forget I ever played it. Athletics is huge to me now.
“I wish more kids around the area where I went to school had more of the drive for it because it’s such a shame there’s not. Some kids do it, but most do football and rugby because that’s what’s pushed in the schools.
“I do think ‘where would I be now’ had I not had my injury, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be here with the opportunity to put a British vest on and it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.
“I’m still waiting for my first vest but all the hard work put in around the injury, all the tears shed through having to retire from rugby at such a young age, it would probably all be too much,” he added.