By Army Spc. Anthony Steglik Jr.
Defense Information School
Katie Walsh runs toward the finish line at the Rumpus in Bumpass Sprint Triathlon on April 22, 2018, in Lake Anna, Va. Walsh, an instructor in the public affairs department of the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Md., finished first in her division in the event. Photo courtesy of Ryan Walsh.
On a warm, beautiful day in October 2007, Katie Walsh was riding in the Sea Gull Century bike ride, a 100-mile course along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It was her first athletic competition as an adult.
On Assateague Island, a little more than halfway into the course, she stopped at a rest area and took her helmet off. She felt something hit her, grabbed her head and realized a bird had pooped on her. Unable to find soap to wash off, she continued her journey.
Several hours later, she crossed the finish line with bugs caked on her sweaty arms and face, seagull droppings on her head, and a sore feeling throughout her body.
“All I wanted was to take a shower,” she recalled as her blue eyes gleamed beneath her wavy brown hair.
At the same time, she felt proud.
“I remember taking a picture at the finish line saying, ‘Man, I can’t believe I did that,” she said.
By training and competing in strenuous athletic events, Walsh, an instructor in the public affairs department of the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Maryland, overcame adversity and set an example of personal growth.
Although she played a few different sports as a child, Walsh was not a shining example of athleticism, she said. Walsh was more often the kid who could be seen picking daisies in the outfield or eating orange slices on the sidelines than being noticed for her hand-eye coordination.
Growing up in Ohio, her unhealthy diet was full of butter, lots of corn and fried foods, she said. It was not uncommon to have a meal in which everything was a shade of brown.
Throughout her young adulthood, she continued to struggle with her weight, as did her entire family, Walsh said. In May 2007, she received a phone call from her mother.
“Do you remember those tests your dad was having?” her mom asked.
“No, you never tell me these things,” Walsh replied.
Her mom explained that her father, a heavy man who carried his weight primarily in his big belly, had moderately aggressive prostate cancer. The doctors told him he needed to have surgery, but he had to lose weight immediately or surgery would not be possible.
“It just kind of hit me when all of that stuff happened with my dad,” Walsh said. “I need to make a change too, or I’m not going to live to worry about a surgery at age 50. I’m not going to live until age 50.”
The very next day, she signed up for a diet plan and began going to the gym. Soon afterward, a co-worker suggested that she enter the Sea Gull Century, and Walsh agreed to train with her. By the day of the ride, after months of regular workouts and rides, Walsh had lost 40 pounds.
Shortly after completing the ride, she was reading a copy of the Raleigh, North Carolina, News and Observer when an article caught her attention. The article was about a man competing in an extremely difficult triathlon after receiving a double-lung transplant.
“I know how to bike; I know how to swim; I know how to run,” she said to herself. “Certainly, if this man with two donor lungs can do this grand triathlon, then certainly I can do a smaller one.”
Less than a year later, in Virginia, she finished third-place in her first triathlon. Placing in the competition was confirmation that she could handle that type of athletic event.
One of her proudest moments came in 2015 at the Kinetic Triathlon in Lake Anna State Park, she said. Among the other contenders in the race was her future sister-in-law, someone who is and always has been both fit and athletic.
The race began with a rough open water swim in a large lake full of dark silty water.
Walsh said the water was so cold it took the wind out of her when she jumped in and she had to remind herself to breathe and start swimming. Looking every so often, she noticed that the current had been carrying her off course. By the time she completed the race, she realized she had beaten her sister-in-law’s time.
“I like to say I am deceptively athletic and people don’t look at me with expectations of glory,” Walsh said. “I just like proving people wrong. There is just something satisfying about that.”
She found her most recent athletic endeavor in the form of boxing lessons.
When she walked into the class for the first time, the instructor asked, “What brings you in today?”
“I am just trying to something I don’t hate,” Walsh said.
Her worst nightmare had come true, Walsh said. She was the only one in the class. However, having only one student allowed for the instructor to be patient and give personal feedback through three rounds of footwork, three rounds of shadow boxing, three rounds of strength conditioning and abdominal workouts, and three rounds of hitting a heavy bag per lesson.
“I remember the first class I could not do the jump rope for the entire time,” Walsh said. “Now, I have tricks I can do.”
Although it took about a week to recover from that first class, she continued to return to the course.
On May 13, Walsh won the Athena division of the Kinetic Sprint Triathlon at Lake Anna State Park in Virginia. Last month, she also won the Athena division of the Rumpus in Bumpass Sprint Triathlon in Lake Anna.
Kinetic Multisports holds triathlons in five states and ranks competitors based on performances within their divisions. Walsh is now in third place overall for the Athena division standings, and she said she plans to do three more events so she can try to take first place for the season.
After all, a person cannot grow personally without overcoming adversity.
“With long-distance, physically challenging events and boxing, it’s about control,” Walsh said. “I can prove to myself that my body can do this thing – and I can prove to you that I can do this thing, and it makes me feel confident as a human being.”