Life Update from Woman of Adventure Patricia Walsh

Blind Paralympian, engineer and competitive rower Patricia Walsh never ceases to amaze. We caught up with this woman of adventure to find out what’s new in her life as an athlete and professional living in London.

Garmin: It was almost a year ago when you were a guest on our Life on the Outside podcast. A lot has changed since then, but just briefly, what’s new in the life of Patricia Walsh?

Patricia Walsh: I’m still competing with Thames Rowing Club. I also have been doing some CrossFit and have even done some competitions recently. I adopted many houseplants in lockdown. Oh, and my dog Camilla has special needs and I am her loyal serviceperson.

Photo by Pablo Byrne

G: Camilla is such a star. More on her later. So quite a few changes since your move from New York City to London. Plus, a very recent job change. Can you tell us more about what you’ll be doing in your new role?

PW: My new role will be working on the business integrity team for a social media platform. I am thrilled to be working on such relevant topics as the spread of disinformation, voter manipulation, sale of fraudulent products and identification of bad actors online.

G: How long has your rowing team been back to training outdoors? What additional protocols are in place to protect team members’ health during the pandemic?

PW: We were all so pleased to get back on the water at the end of August. Everyone wears masks in the locker rooms, and we also stagger practice times to encourage social distancing. For indoor training at the club, we have staggered the rowing machines and equipment. The team and various captains have pulled together to be able to train as normally as possible. It has been a real team effort to be compliant with all the guidelines for the greater good.

G: For someone who thrives on a heavy training load, we imagine you had a hard time being away from the water and the gym when things were locked down in London. How did you cope and stay active?

PW: I was so stir-crazy in my flat. Thankfully I was able to borrow a Concept2 erg bike from the rowing club. I participated in every Concept2 virtual challenge, including the 100 kilometer challenge on the bike throughout the summer. I also started running with friends/guides again. Unfortunately in June, I fractured my collarbone. I was so grateful to have my teammates around to help me as I was in a sling for 6 weeks. My shoulder has recovered remarkably quickly. Being injured and housebound was enough to drive a person mad.

G: Did you adopt any new habits or fitness activities during the lockdown?

PW: As soon as I figured out how serious lockdown was going to be, I started frantically putting together a home gym. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. All of a sudden, all the rowing machines were twice as expensive. I ended up buying a random assortment of gear that was available … a 40 kilogram kettlebell, a BOSU ball, a 12 kilogram medicine ball. I used the time to work on balance. Squats on the BOSU. Deadlifts with the kettlebell. Once sports were back on and gyms were opening, I tried CrossFit as it was one of the first to open. For now, it is complementing rowing well.

G: What do you like best about CrossFit — is it the fitness benefits, the competition, the challenge of learning a completely new skill set?

Photo by Pablo Byrne

PW: The instructors have all been wonderful. I am always tentative to explain my vision as I think people panic. That being said, all the instructors have been helpful. I think it is always hard for people to wrap their head around the fact that accommodating someone with blindness or low vision doesn’t mean setting a lower bar. I need help gathering equipment. I need help moving around other people. I never need a lower bar for my own fitness or ability. I feel like it is always a shift for people to realize that it is OK to challenge me just like anyone else. I love learning a new skill. I feel I am becoming a bit more well-rounded as an athlete. In lockdown I think I got as far on my own as a person can get. It was so nice to come back to both the rowing team and the CrossFit classes. So nice to have the encouragement of the instructors and the comradery of the team.

G: As someone who’s been an advocate and thought leader for accessible technology, what are some recent developments?

PW: I am an advocate for accessibility to be included in mainstream products. For example, all of the Apple products have accessibility built in. Accessibility is the key to inclusion into employment, and inclusion into employment is key to the quality of life and sense of purpose. I have never worked on accessibility. People often ask me why and truly I think I have more impact in mainstream tech. It’s hard for sighted people to prioritize making some tech accessible for someone with a disability when they have no examples of persons with disabilities employed. It’s like the prospect of the chicken or the egg. Persons with disabilities are underemployed because the tech can’t support them, but the tech doesn’t support because they have a smaller market share because this group is underemployed.

G: In the last few months, people worldwide have turned to tech in new ways — for work, for commerce, for education. Are there any parallels to how people with disabilities rely on tech daily?

PW: I am certain there are for people who have mobility issues. I know for some people with mobility issues, working from home is their preference. Now that everyone is working from home, it likely is easier to integrate.

G: We can’t say goodbye without checking on your dog Camilla. Any updates from her?

PW: She has a boyfriend at my rowing club. A human boyfriend, that is. She is afraid of water, so she barks at other dogs to get out of the water. Over lockdown she befriended a construction worker who was working on our building. She would stick her head out the window. He would stop by and have long conversations with her. He even started packing bits of his lunch for her. 

To learn more about Patricia Walsh and to see her Women of Adventure feature, click here.