I am happy to introduce you to Jill Walsh. Jill describes herself as ”a not particularly athletic middle-aged woman, wife, mother of three teenagers, and a retired New York State Trooper.” As a mother of two teenage boys myself I can attest to what an accomplishment that is but there is a little more to add to her bio…. She has multiple sclerosis, she bikes, she runs, she swims and she competes in triathlons. In 2014 she won both a silver and bronze medal in the para-cycling world championships. Earlier this year she was named to the Paralympic Cycling Team and last month in August she won a gold medal for Team USA in the para-cycling road world championships in Switzerland. She rocks! Recently I had a chance to talk to Jill about exercise, MS and nutrition. I thought you might find it interesting and inspiring.
Hello Jill! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am a not particularly athletic middle-aged woman: wife, mother a three teen-agers. I have always been a very active person. My first love was running, then switching to triathlon and most recently cycling.
What is your professional background?
I am a retired New York State Trooper. I have a degree in Accounting and graduate degree in Management Information Systems.
When were you diagnosed with MS?
How did you become involved in competitive athletics?
Both before and after my MS diagnosis, I was active in running and triathlons. Due to balance issues I was unable to safely ride my bike any longer, and was introduced to the trike. Another trike rider suggested that I register for the Para National Championship race in July 2014 in Madison, WI. I did and I won my race, which made me the national champion. I raced for the US for the first time at the 2014 World Championships in Greenville, SC. In August of 2015 I earned the rainbow stripes and became the World Champion in the road race. Also I won gold at the Para Pan American games for the Time Trail. It’s been an amazing ride! (The rainbow stripe jersey is what every cyclist dreams of earning.)
What is the greatest obstacle that MS has presented in your daily life or in your training?
Adjusting. Adjusting to walking with an AFO (ankle foot orthotic), and then not being able to walk without one. Adjusting to not being able to ride a bike. Adjusting to losing strength on my left hand. Adjusting to needing to control my body temperature when training. Constantly adjusting.
How do you approached obstacles?
One at a time, and with as positive and matter-of-fact attitude as I can muster. You can fall in a deep hole and then just sit in that hole all day depressed that you are in a deep hole, but gets you not one step further out of that hole. Or, you can say, “Well, I am stuck in this hole right now, so what I can I do to make my situation a little less bad?
Same with M.S. I can’t change the fact that I have it, so what I am going to do about it? Sit at the bottom of that hole depressed, or trying to make my situation less bad. You have to go with Door #2.
What if any adaptations have you made to your training schedule or regimen to navigate the balance, strength and temperature sensitivity obstacles?
Well, Allard plays a big part in my adaptions. I wear one AFO (Ankle foot orthotic) for walking, one for cycling, and a different one for running. I also always need to be monitoring the weather forecasts to account for very hot or very cold conditions.
How has exercise impacted your quality of life?
Exercise has always been a part of my life. I believe to be healthy you need move your body almost every day. I am confident my active life-style has helped me with my M.S.
Aside from physical fitness, do you feel like you get any perhaps less obvious benefits from exercise?
I think the way that physicians used to treat and advise MS patients included not stressing the body to minimizing risking relapse. I am fortunate to have a physician that says otherwise – keep your body in the best shape possible. Since I would be doing it anyway, I guess I am glad I have a physician that sees it my way.
Do you have any tips for others with MS who wonder if exercise might improve their quality of life?
Without question, exercise improves the quality of life for everyone, MS or not. It does not have to be competing for the US Paralympic team, just do what you can do. Move the best you can.
Do you have a mantra or philosophy that guides your fitness and nutrition?
Not really. Just move. Every day, if you can.
Do you like to cook? If so, what kind of stuff do you enjoy cooking?
This is my family answering the question: No!
You travel a lot, what do you generally look for on a menu when dining out?
Whatever I am hungry for.
What role do you feel nutrition plays in your overall quality of life? How has nutrition impacted your athletic performance?
To be honest with you I have not really thought much about nutrition. My goal this year is going to be learning and improving my diet and nutrition specifically for training. So thanks for asking me these questions. It is the part of my training that I have ignored.
Describe your typical diet:
Breakfast: cereal, fruit or most often PB&J on toast
Lunch: left overs in my fridge
Dinner: I seem to eat lots of chicken ~ really anything
Snacks: Lots & often, some healthy some not so healthy I have a big sweet tooth. Any kind of gummies, chocolate and of course ice cream.
How does your training diet differ from your non-training diet?
I don’t have a non-training diet. When I am ironman training the challenge is finding enough to eat. I usually let hunger be my guide. I find that when my training volume decreases after a few days my appetite does also.
What do you eat before you compete?
I don’t change my eating habits.
How do you stay hydrated while training?
If it is very warm I need to supplement electrolytes.
What is your favorite post-race celebratory meal?
Well to be perfectly honest, an ice-cold beer!
What is the best nutrition advice you have ever received?
Strive for balance and moderation.
Who or what gives you inspiration?
Not any one person; I am inspired by anyone one who keeps trying.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“Whether you believe you can or you can’t you are probably right”
How do you stay motivated?
It is not always easy. I like to pick a race/event to train for. Once I have paid the registration fee I will complete the race!
Is there anything else you would like to add about exercise and or nutrition and the impact they have on your life?
Exercise makes me feel good about myself. As I have had to modify the volume/speed/ability I have to not beat myself up about it. Hard lesson to learn. Do your best for where you are. I am still working on that.
Selfish Question: You mentioned that you have completed the MS Challenge Walk in Cape Cod in the past, any advice for a first timer?
Have a great time and take lots of pictures! Also don’t eat at every rest stop. I wouldn’t do that during a run so I should not have during a walk. The first day I did and it was big mistake. I also was a runner so I mixed it up a bit and ran a few miles every so often.
I hope you all enjoyed this interview and are as inspired as I am to keep adjusting and keep moving!