Community Spotlight: Major Chris Walsh
With over 30,000 Service League members in the HYLETE community, we are passionate about amplifying the voices of those who train to ensure our health and safety. We asked Major Chris Walsh, an Active duty USAF Special Warfare member serving as a Special Tactics officer and member of the US Men’s Bobsled team about his experience and inspiration as he trains for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Here's what he had to say.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you're from? How did your life growing up influence your career?
I was born in the Philippines, both of my parents were enlisted AF members that met and moved overseas together. After that, I grew up primarily in North Carolina, where I would do all my schooling prior to college. This was impactful to my journey into the military. I spent a lot of time around Ft Bragg/Pope airfield, which is a huge special operations hub that ultimately engrained my desire to join that community and serve.
Can you tell us about your experience training to become an Olympian?
My “Olympic Journey” is still a work in progress and has yet to produce an Olympic berth as I am shooting for the 2022 Winter Olympic games. I grew up as an athlete in multiple sports. I primarily played Ice Hockey year-round, but I also swam, ran cross country, played football, lacrosse, baseball, and soccer. This variety was critical to my development as an athlete, my favorite sport was always hockey and it was the place I did the best as an athlete. I attempted to play Division 1 college hockey but never achieved that goal. As quickly as one door shuts another opens, and after transferring schools, I decided to walk onto my college track and football teams at Valparaiso University. From there I joined the Air Force and eventually found my way into AF special warfare (also known as Special Tactics). I felt that I never had fully realized my dreams of making it to the Olympic level of athletics and thus I decided to try out for the USA bobsled team which is where I am currently competing for a spot on an Olympic team.
What can you share about your experience in the military?
I began my military career in 2009 as an aircraft maintenance officer working with KC-135 tanker aircraft in the UK at RAF Mildenhall. I had known for a long time that I desired to be closer to the fight and longed to join special operations. While there I decided to apply to become an Air Force Special Tactics officer in 2011, which I was selected for after the grueling application process which is both digital and in person. I had to wait a full year before I was given permission to start training for this new job, which was a challenging time in which I almost lost hope that the opportunity to move was fading. I was lucky to have amazing leadership who ensured this dream became a reality. Once I completed Special tactics training in 2014, I was assigned to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron in WA. I deployed from here to Iraq/Syria to conduct/support operations in those theaters. I then moved to Ft Bragg, NC to another Special Tactics unit and did another deployment from there. I am now in the AF’s World-class athlete program where my duty is to train, compete, and prepare to make an Olympic team.
How does your life in the military differ from life training to be a world-class athlete?
My buddy Mike Hazle nailed this one on the head, but I am doing things in the opposite order as him. In Special Operations you learn to take a beating, you must be incredibly tough, resilient, and willing to push past the signs of fatigue and pain your body sends. This is amazingly effective and needed to complete missions where failure is not an option. The consequences for mission failure are severe and require you to never stop and even injure yourself if required to succeed. In the pursuit of high-level athletics, you need to be incredibly perceptive of your body’s needs. Injuries can end careers and induce massive setbacks in progress so naturally ignoring fatigue and pain is not conducive to success. This mindset took a lot of adjusting to, even small injuries that I thought were not significant ended up having massive effects on performance.
How has training and competing been valuable to you in your career and your personal life?
Competition is an important part of my life for a myriad of reasons. The process of training then competing, training then competing, teaches you many things about yourself and exposes weaknesses. That process is one of growth that requires you to prepare feverishly for an unknown result. This could manifest as a failure or success despite the outcome you adjust training variables or other issues and then begin training for the next event with the same unknowns. I feel that these experiences, especially the failures have helped me develop into a more resilient, intelligent, and gritty athlete. It has allowed me to see problems as not just bad problems but good problems, which gives me a mindset that despite the difficulties, these moments will help me be better and prepare me for future moments. I believe this mindset is where the saying “embrace the suck” comes from, you cannot improve without the negative and positive moments in athletics. This translates to my personal life because as a father and husband I am demonstrating to my kids that failure is not something to fear but to embrace it when it happens, improve and move forward.
How does having the right performance apparel impact your training?
High-level athletics and Special Operations both require the best equipment to approach and complete difficult tasks. In the military, the desire to find the best equipment solution is a never-ending process, and once discovered it becomes the new standard. HYLETE has created products that can withstand everything that I throw at them and this allows me to perform at my peak with no worries that I have substandard equipment. I have HYLETE gear that I have used for my entire time in Special Operations and now use training at the Olympic training center and it has not worn out. HYLETE gear is incredibly functional and provides all the aspects I desire in athletic wear, albeit a pocket in the right place, the correct cut or fit as well as durability. To top it all off it is stylish and something I can wear out for a night on the town or to a professional event. HYLETE continues to innovate and produce gear that merges the worlds of function and form in a way that no other company can match in my opinion.
How do you overcome adversity and challenges?
I think that a few key things help me through these moments which I would categorize as outlook, ownership, and action.
Your outlook and cognitive thoughts are one aspect of how you conquer these things. It is important to know that you will face setbacks and countless failures, injuries, and other problems. A good way to approach this is to know that these are good problems, problems that are reserved for athletes or your career/life. Thinking this way gives you humility and appreciation for the amazing journey you are on. I think looking at life through this lens is a good way to focus your mind during the difficulties you will face. It will never feel like a good problem in the moment but taking time to have active thoughts to reframe those problems is how you change the narrative in your head. This makes these events feel far less overwhelming and makes them problems you want to solve, not avoid.
Ownership is important, when you face a challenge taking ownership despite the root of the problem is huge. It’s easy to feel like things happen to you rather than because of you, however, should you choose to know you had a hand in everything that happens to you it is easy to feel like you control your destiny. Things will absolutely happen to you, and they will be out of your control but if you boil it down, typically there was something you could have done to avoid or alter that outcome. This hurts our egos because it means we failed, and we fail a lot, but it also keeps us grounded and humble. This mindset allows you to find a way to control what you can control and drive those habits into your training and life.
Finally, action is where you take the above two concepts and turn them into reality. You don’t have to meet your goals that day or even the next but taking action to move towards your goals are vital. This can be as simple as training consistently each day, making the right meal choice, putting in 30 minutes to play with your kids, etc. Those actions compound and become habits and habits will drive success. I like to think of everything I do has a purpose for where I want to be in the future and those actions should be oriented to those good problems which you have taken ownership of. You cannot do one of these things without the other and find success, so practice them all and I feel it will take anyone to their desired goals.
Who has inspired you the most in your life?
My answer to this has changed throughout my life, if you asked me when I was a kid, it would be Wayne Gretzky or Derek Jeter. Now I don’t really look at successful people as my inspiration as much as I admire the good attributes people around me exhibit. Much of this comes from teammates, family members, and friends. The amazing qualities they show like work ethic, humility, grit, compassion, and love are what inspire me. My wife works hard, is incredibly intelligent, compassionate, and loving. My daughters just love unconditionally, my parents have worked hard to provide a life for me and my brothers that opened these opportunities. The countless men and women I have served with that have shown incomparable heroism, devotion, and grit. As I have aged, I have learned that the people we interact with frequently are the ones who inspire me the most. They keep you humble and help you see where you can improve.
What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a career as a professional athlete?
Understand that is a journey wrought with disappointment and failure. Even with the talent, timing and work ethic things happen where you never make it to the Olympics or professional level. I think that’s ok, this journey is not about the final moment but more about the path and the change you will experience on it. If you can take solace in that process and accept you may never get to where you hope to be, then it will be rewarding in a way nothing else can be.