A teenage Mikaela Shiffrin was sitting in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston visiting her childhood best friend, Thomas Walsh.
Shiffrin revealed that her high school, Burke Mountain Academy, did not have a prom. Walsh mentioned his high school, Green Mountain Valley School, did.
Shiffrin suddenly had an idea.
“She said, ‘Are you going to take me to your prom?’” Walsh recalled. “And then we went.”
The prom dates met as preschoolers in Vail, Colo. They kept in touch after Shiffrin moved to the East Coast at 7, when she was already a promising young skier.
“You can just tell in someone, after you get to know them, that they’re going to do something great,” Walsh said. “We all felt that something was different and that she was going to get somewhere.”
The day before a 14-year-old Walsh was set to move to the East Coast himself in 2009 to attend a ski academy in Vermont, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that developed in his pelvis and lungs.
He underwent chemotherapy, in addition to radiation and pelvic resection treatments. 14 months after the initial diagnosis, Walsh was declared cancer-free.
When Walsh arrived to pick up Shiffrin for prom on a spring day in 2012, he was greeted by her mother, Eileen. Eileen was Walsh’s first racing coach.
Eileen helped Walsh put the corsage on Shiffrin.
“She looked gorgeous,” Walsh said. “Everybody else at school was jealous that I was Mikaela’s date.”
It was the first time that Shiffrin spent time with Walsh since he was released from the hospital.
“It was pretty cool to see him peppy and happy and dancing and doing the things that he always loved to do,” Shiffrin said.
The prom was held in a low-lit round barn in Vermont with a DJ playing music.
At first, Shiffrin felt self-conscious and did not want to dance. But Walsh, who grew up taking ballet and dance lessons, talked her into it.
“When you talk about a guy leading, he is that guy,” Shiffrin said. “He knows how to handle somebody so that they actually feel like they know how to dance.”
They crossed paths again in Sochi at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Shiffrin, then 18, was making her Olympic debut. Walsh was in Russia thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
He was inspired watching Shiffrin, who claimed gold in slalom and finished fifth in giant slalom.
“This is something that I miss and that I love,” Walsh said. “And to see someone so close to me do so well, it was moving.”
After doing some research, Walsh discovered that he was eligible to compete in the standing classification of para alpine skiing due to a limb deficiency.
He now trades advice with his prom dates as they both train for the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
“For any celebrity and star, sure, it’s really hard to keep in contact,” Walsh said. “But Mikaela always makes time to stay close to her friends.”