Tom Wallisch: Giving MS the Boot
The 23rd annual Walk MS Salt Lake City featured something new and noteworthy: X Games Gold Medalist freeskier Tom Wallisch did the walk—wearing ski boots. At first he thought of it as an icebreaker, a way to meet people and hear their stories. Then it became more than that, he says, a way to put himself in the shoes of someone with multiple sclerosis. “It can be hard to walk with this disease, or even just to move.”
It also made the Walk—which he did with his aunt Bonnie Higgins, who’s had MS since Wallisch was a child—a little more challenging for him. “She said it was the first time she ever could keep up with me.” (Watch Wallisch at the Walk.)
Freeskier magazine’s 2011 skier of the year, Wallisch is an Olympic hopeful for 2014, which is also the first year free skiing will be an Olympics event. Till then, he is focusing on competing, practicing and preparing to represent the U.S.
He has always been physically active, says the Pittsburgh native, who now lives in Park City, Utah. “Even before competing professionally, I never broke a bone, never had injuries that stopped me from being active,” he says. “Seeing my aunt Bonnie have to stay behind on a family trip or not be able to go on a vacation always made me remember how fortunate I was.
“The reason I’ve gotten more involved with the Society is learning how unaware people are about the disease,” he continues. “Everyone seems to be related to someone who has it, but the person may seem ‘fine,’ and issues happen behind closed doors. I’ve learned how essential it is to get the news out, to raise money to find a cure or a therapy that will work for everyone—hopefully within my aunt’s lifetime. The most important thing for now, what those of us who aren’t doctors can do, is to raise money and help in any way we can.”