‘The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.’
Member’s paradigm shift opens playing field to all
This month we are thrilled to feature Mike Welsch, a marathon swimmer, former triathlete and Boston Marathoner who trains in our pool. Yes, quite a few of you do this, but Mike’s story has an interesting origin.
Back in 1978, when Mike was an enlisted Marine at NC’s Camp Lejeune and his 19-year-old brain was still forming, he drank too much, boarded a motorcycle, and sped away. It ended badly. There was a collision with a police cruiser and the amputation of his lower left leg.
“I will be paying for that for the rest of my life,” Mike said.
Traditionally, when someone says, ‘I will pay for this,” thoughts automatically go toward the negative. Mike may have originally been headed there, too. View that statement through a paradigm shift, however, and you’ll see that Mike has since been paying society back in aces.
Born an athlete, with a love of hockey, Mike began running on his prostheses from the start. His doctors warned him he’d ruin his stump and the alignments of his muscular and skeletal structures. “The doctor said, ‘don’t run.’ Stop it.’” Mike recalled, adding he holds the deepest respect for the Veterans Hospitals that still work with him. “But I had it in my head, I’m not stopping.”
The artificial legs issued in those days were clunky - designed solely to support balance and labored walking. Mike, as we already caught on, flirts with rules. He began training for triathlons, which are continuous races beginning with a 2.4-mile open-water swim, then a 112-mile bike race, and ending with a 26.2-mile run. These events are grueling for conditioned athletes with four fit limbs. Mike was one of two in the 1980s hauling a cumbersome artificial one.
“I was training my body and building my mind at the same time,” said Mike, who held his own on in the swim and bike segments, but fell to the back of the pack in the running.
Every training and race Mike and the other gentlemen, his mentor Pat Griskus, now deceased, competed in was a laboratory of sorts for prosthetist and orthopedics. Data, such as pressure, range of motion, comfort and flexibility, was calibrated to design limbs specific for individual athletes for a variety of purposes. For instance, in early races, Mike used the same prosthesis for running as he did for cycling. Today’s athletes - thanks to Mike - use a customized limb specific for each segment.
This fusion of art, science and strong spirit saw Mike cross a series of finish lines. A sampling being two half Ironmans, triathlons and half triathlons, the Boston Marathon (11 times), The 192-mile Pan Mass Challenge (18 times), and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. He was a member of the 2000 USA Amputee Hockey Team. This summer, he completed swimming the lengths of all the big lakes in New Hampshire.
Mike, who turns 60 this month, is determined to be a powerful competitor until the day he dies. He may not always make the podium - though he did at the Salem, Mass 2-mile swim recently - he is always improving his times. He is proposing a book, and continues to champion the needs of disabled athletes. His enthusiasm gets fired up while speaking at schools and substance abuse support groups about the perils of alcohol.
“They can’t see the danger of alcohol abuse. They see the beer commercials with the beautiful girls, the new bourbon commercial that says, ‘Get hooked on bourbon and your life’s going to be wonderful!’” Mike said. “It doesn’t work out that way. I pray that if my words can save even one kid from the type of tragedy that I had to experience, then my mission in life will be complete.”