Two days ago New Zealand got a new world champion in the form of shot putter Tom Walsh. Following in the footsteps of Beatrice Faumuina and Dame Valerie Adams, Tom became the first male to win a world championship medal for New Zealand. As with most champions his success has not been born overnight. The culmination of many years hard work, it is certainly no accident that Tom earned the right to hear the national anthem played in the London Olympic Stadium in his honour.
I’ve known Tom since he was a gun junior coming through the ranks and and more recently we were team mates in the 2014 Commonwealth Games Team. He’s a very likeable guy (just ask any New Zealander whether they know him or not). As a junior he was often in the shadow of former World Youth and Junior champion, Jacko Gill. Out of Timaru and now Christchurch, Tom just went about his business carving his own path, his own technique and slowly chipping away to becoming a world champion.
Having got to know Tom over the years these are just a few of the pieces to the Tom Walsh puzzle that have created such a beast of an athlete and a hell of a nice guy to boot…..
Mental Giant in the heat of the battle
As an athlete, you walk a fine line leading into a major championship. When in peak condition you’re on the verge of breaking personal bests but ironically also on the edge of breaking your body as it reacts to the tremendous forces created whenever you contract in anger. You’re on the edge physically and mentally.
The day before Tom was due to throw in the qualifying event he strained his right adductor in his final training session. Any tweak on the eve of an event has the potential to derail a team. On the verge of his World Champs campaign the final bolt in the armour came unstuck. His team shut down that throwing session immediately and sought medical attention. Tom was presented with a challenge mentally to stay in the moment and get on with business.
Clear head, solid processes and get it done
Whilst most people would be highly emotional with such an injury Tom remained rational. Physically he knew he was in career best form. It was time for the work he has done developing his mental skills to come to the forefront. Tom stayed calm. Tom kept his sh*t together and continued to go about his processes. He was not afraid to adjust the plan and trust it was all going to be OK. Tom is exceptionally good at grieving quickly, and then letting the grief or rage go and moving on to plan B when things go astray. He embodied this with the last minute groin injury.
Whilst most people see Tom as a pretty chilled out bloke who’s pretty handy with a hammer and throwing rocks a long way, he is able to shift into full steam assassin mode very quickly. His ability to adapt and go from joking with the other competitors to being in the circle releasing bombs is astounding. He’s a fierce competitor regardless of what’s going on with him, when he gets on the start line it’s game on.
From my perspective Tom has the physical tools to be the best at the throwing the shot, but so do many others, it’s the top six inches that set him apart.
Team Tom Walsh– surround yourself with the best and be the best
Tom was quick to acknowledge his team in the media following his victory. I have insights into Tom’s team because of my husband’s involvement over the last three years. Having worked in elite sport a long time my husband says that Team Walsh is the best set up he’s been part of. No egos. A strong sense of purpose and strong sense of fun. Everyone knows their strengths. Everyone is responsive to feedback. And everyone cares about each other and the mission that Team Walsh is on.
If you’re ever been part of a ship where you have this perfect synergy working together when it feels like the boat just keeps getting faster and faster, that’s Team Walsh. Central to this setup has been Tom getting the right people on board. He hasn’t been afraid to change it when it wasn’t working for him. He’s the driver of the campaign but heavily supported by a great group of people. In an individual sport when you’re trying to be a world beater you need to surround yourself with world beaters in their fields. If you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, Tom is in good company (non biased opinion!).
Taking care of the details
Tom is meticulous in his approach to training and life. He has a mental routine before every single throw in both training and competition. He’s a 125kg bloke that stretches for an hour before to breakfast! He has a shot put circle in his garage to continuously feel the moment. Tom has a supplement programme and eating plan which is tailored to his needs. He is relentless about getting enough sleep. He dots the I’s and crosses the T’s with an indomitable will.
At the same time he knows how to relax. Whether it’s the banter between the team or a game of golf with his boys Tom can switch off. Much has been said of his work on the building site and this is along the same lines. Just as every athlete wants to balanced in body, Tom has created a balanced life. Ferociously competitive but easy going. Particular but relaxed. Team player but strong individual focus.
Watch out world
There is going to be more to the Tom Walsh story in the years to come. He’s going to be round for a while and hopefully we will hear the New Zealand National anthem many times in more stadia around the world. Some of these factors Tom can take credit for but he’s also a lucky guy with a hugely supportive family and some incredible mentors along the way. A lot of these factors are life lessons for us all and not just confined to the shot put circle or sport. Lessons that if we apply just a fraction of we can all learn and grow from to be world and life beaters in whatever your craft is.