WEST POINT, N.Y., June 21, 2016 — Helping his team win the bronze medal during the 200-meter swim relay at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy here yesterday meant a lot to Sean Walsh, a West Point graduate.
Walsh, who medically retired as a captain after serving in civil affairs with U.S. Special Operations Command, competed on the Socom team and said being back in the Crandall Pool after 15 years was an emotional day for him.
“I wanted to be an Army officer and a soldier, so I thought this was the best place to get that training,” he said of his decision to attend the academy. “I was very excited to come here and very honored to be a part of this.” As a student, he swam competitively for one year.
“It was a pretty big jump for me,” he said. “I definitely learned a lot about working hard, but after a year, I wasn’t getting any better, so that was the end of my collegiate career.”
His father, Bob Walsh, said the academy was a good influence on his son. “Sean always gives 100 percent, so when he came here, he had improved a great deal, and that’s always been the way he does things,” he said. “He came up here academically and got better as the four years came by, and it helped him a great deal to grow as a person.”
Returning to Crandall Pool
Walsh said it was interesting being back where he had spent so much time years ago. “It was really emotional when I came back to the pool for the first time, because I hadn’t been back here for 10 years,” he said. “I hadn’t been back in that pool [competing] for almost 15 years ... It took me 15 years, but I finally came back and won one race in the Crandall Pool here at West Point.”
Walsh earned gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke in his disability category, but he was most excited about helping his Socom team earn a bronze medal in the 200-meter relay.
“Helping bring the relay home was probably the best part of the day, without a doubt,” he said. “Watching all of my teammates go off, seeing we were in third place, seeing that we were competitive, I knew I had to go out and deliver. They were depending on me.
“I love the teamwork and sense of camaraderie,” he continued. “It’s so incredible, wonderful and humbling to have that again and to be able to support my teammates, my special operations veterans, that was really incredible. It was very emotional to be able to come back and do that.”
His father, who’s been a basketball coach for 42 years, said the goal he gives Sean is to work hard and come to win.
“And that’s what he did,” he added. “He worked hard to get here, and he came in and he won. But the most important thing is he brought home the bronze with his teammates, and that’s what it’s all about. There’s always a team -- even if it’s an individual sport, you’re still working as a team. And the relay highlights that more than anything else.”
Remembering the Fallen
Walsh said he doesn’t take anything for granted. He was diagnosed with a severe illness after returning from an overseas mission with Socom. While competing here this week, he stopped to visit some of his former classmates at the West Point Cemetery with his wife, Caroline, and son, Tommy.
“I went to see my classmates who made the ultimate sacrifice, and that was very inspirational to me,” he said. “Their spirit was very much with me today. I have a bracelet for 1st Lt. Tom Marin, who was one of my classmates. He was killed at [Forward Operating Base] Falcon [in Iraq] while we were serving together. I carry that with me.”
Sean’s mother, Pat, said she’s inspired by the wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans who have been competing in the events this week. “Disabled or ill veterans or servicemen can do anything they want when they put their minds to it and ask for support and get the support,” she said. “They can do whatever they want. They have the background of working hard.”
Bob said the will to compete is a sign of their strength and character.
“It shows the guts and determination most of these people have to come from where they’re at and to make up their minds that they’re going to compete,” he said. “Some struggle more than others, but you never see any of them quit. It’s just a sign of the character these men and women brought not only to the armed forces, but for the world, that they can do things when they put their mind to it. These Warrior Games [are] a fantastic accomplishment.”
Sean said the athletes at the DoD Warrior Games have overcome a lot of obstacles to compete at the games, competing at the trials, getting selected for the team and getting through their recovery process enough to be at this competitive level, so it makes him that much more proud of his teammates.
“It’s not one day somebody gets hurt, and the next day they’re here at the Warrior Games,” he said. “They’ve been working for years to get to this point, and they’re going to keep working to keep getting better every day. So it’s really inspirational, and it’s very humbling for me to be a part of this. I’m really proud of my teammates and to represent the special operations community.”
Walsh competed at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, last month, and earned a silver medal and two bronze medals in swimming. He tied with an American teammate for one of his bronze medals by a hundredth of a second.
“I was really excited,” he said. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to do that here in the United States and meeting the first lady and Prince Harry. That was pretty incredible.”
The next Invictus Games will be in Canada, and Walsh said he hopes to make the U.S. team again. “I actually grew up in Canada for a little bit, so it’s kind of like going home again in a different way, so we’ll see,” he said.