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Shot Put champ Tom Walsh reveals how wife Dana gives him strength

The Commonwealth Games hero’s new wife Dana will be his biggest cheerleader in Paris
Tom and Dana Walsh sitting on a wooden beam with dog Rippa Pictures: Selina Nunn

Excitement is building for Kiwi shot putter Tom Walsh as he prepares to throw for golden glory at the Olympic Games in Paris, cheered on by his wife Dana. After a hugely successful build-up that saw him win silver at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow, the Christchurch athlete would dearly love to take home gold in France.

“I’m feeling really good, but it all comes down to what happens on the day,” he says.

Following an intimate wedding to his longtime partner Dana last October, Tom is thrilled he can finally say his “wife” will be part of his cheer squad in Paris.

Tom and Dana sitting on a log holding hands

He smiles, “Dana has been so supportive through all the ups and downs of my career. Realistically, I’m the only person who cares about how far I throw, so I’m very lucky to have her there to listen to me bang on about stuff – and also to tell me when to buck my ideas up and move on!”

Around the time Tom, 32, and Dana, 30, met 10 years ago, Tom was in the early stages of his international shot put career. He told Dana he would be competing overseas for around six weeks a year. Soon after, he had his breakthrough competition, which allowed him to turn professional. That resulted in the pair spending lots more time apart.

Competing at the peak of the sport means Tom – who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2022 – is overseas for around six months a year. The couple has had to get used to juggling, explains Dana.

Tom flying the New Zealand flag after his commonwealth games win

“We try not to be apart for longer than six weeks. I make at least two trips a year to be with Tom. People often think I’m on a big vacation when I’m travelling, but a lot of my time is spent going to trainings and competitions.

“Tom’s career has definitely given us opportunities to visit lots of cool places, though. If he can take a break after big competitions, we try to see something new.”

During the long separations, the Walshes work hard to keep their romance and relationship alive, reveals Tom. “Over the years, we’ve figured out what each other needs. We try to dedicate some time most days to video call.

“I know, for Dana, it’s not just about talking, but being present while we’re talking as well. My mental-skills coach has supported us with some strategies that have helped us to manage things too.”

Dana, an occupational therapist, says their most challenging separation was during the Olympics in Tokyo, where Covid-19 restrictions were in full force. “We didn’t see each other for six months and if something went wrong, I knew there was no way we could be together again within a day or two. The two-week isolation when Tom finally came home was really tough.”

Tom and Dana standing together holding hands

Tom, who is dyslexic, says travelling and competing during this time, without seeing Dana, was a big challenge. “It was quite overwhelming with all the extra forms and tests required to get in and out of different countries,” he recalls. Regardless, he ended up winning the bronze medal.

After Paris, Tom and Dana plan to spend a couple of weeks travelling. The pair had a pre-honeymoon in Greece following the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Hungary last year. After their stunning wedding, they had 10 laidback days in Twizel and Cromwell with their much-loved golden retriever, Rippa.

“I make sure Rippa goes everywhere with us when I’m home,” grins Tom.

Although they’ve been together for a decade, Dana admits married life does feel different. “I didn’t think it would, but changing my name to Walsh, and calling each other husband and wife has brought us even closer.”

Tom and Dana Walsh on their wedding day

Tom adds, “Our wedding day was very emotional. It does feel different now we’ve made a formal commitment to each other.”

Tom, a qualified builder, gave up his job with Mike Greer Homes in 2017 to focus full-time on athletics. When he is at home, he spends around 35 hours a week training, with stretching, exercise and throwing sessions, as well as massage, physio, mental-skills and nutrition appointments.

To keep his powerful 135kg frame at peak fitness, he consumes around 5000 calories a day, which requires considerable planning. “A lot more thought goes into the supermarket shop when Tom is home compared to when I’m here alone and winging it,” smiles Dana.

Tom grew up on a farm and rarely eats takeaways. He says a good old-fashioned roast is right up there when it comes to his favourite meals, alongside a Moroccan orzo chicken salad inspired by the couple’s travels to Greece. “Ice cream is my kryptonite, so we try not to have it in the freezer during the week. If it’s in there, I’ll eat it, so we keep it as a treat for weekends.”

Tom, Dana and golden retriever Rippa in a field

The active couple loves to spend time outdoors with Rippa and both enjoy a round of golf. They have an infrared sauna in their garage, which they try to use daily, says Tom. “It’s a great place to get rid of our phones, talk with no distractions and even do some mindfulness.”

During his long career, Tom is lucky to have avoided any major injuries. Body willing, he plans to compete at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028. With retirement from international sport on the horizon, he and Dana have also started thinking about their long-term future.

“We’re building a new home on a lifestyle block in North Canterbury. We also definitely want to have a family at some point,” Tom reveals. “Careerwise, I still love building and who knows what other doors might open? I would also love to be involved in some way in the growth of my sport once I retire.”

Dana is also looking forward to having children – and to having Tom around for family milestones. “I know he would love more dogs, so I have a feeling we’ll end up with lots
of animals too,” she smiles.

An action shot of Tom mid-throw

Tom is close to his family. His mother Karen, father Peter, brother Bill, sister-in-law Kate and his seven-month-old nephew Franklin will join Dana in France to cheer him on to victory.

“Mum and Dad have supported me right from the time I started out. Back when I was costing them a lot of money,” says Tom. “It means so much to me to have Dana and my family with me in Paris.”

Although he has been competing on the international stage for over a decade, Tom adds that he still gets a thrill from “putting on a show” and chasing that perfect throw.

“I’ve had a bunch of throws over the years that have been close to perfect. I still haven’t quite got there yet, though,” he says. “It’s such an awesome feeling when everything comes together and the timing is right. I’ve definitely got enough left in the tank to get there. Paris would be the ideal place to achieve it.”

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