On Sunday April 24 the UC Irvine Men’s and Women’s Track teams lost one of its most memorable athletes, James Walter Walsh.
Walsh passed away in a car crash last weekend.
A freshman walk-on from Ruben S. Ayala High School in Chino Hills, Walsh soon became the only freshman sprinter to make the team in the 400 meters this year.
Coach Ben Cesar commented on the first time he spoke to James.
‘I remember that it was some time in late August, and I called him at the crack of dawn just to speak to him about the specifics of the team, tryouts and what was going to be required of him,’ Cesar said. ‘Even though he was in some deep sleep he woke up and spoke to me, his desire to run was that strong. I could hear the excitement over the phone.’
Walsh, characterized by the compassion he shared for others and his work ethic, was not the ‘average’ kid.
As a young man he was involved in AYSO soccer, water polo, and track and field all while garnering numerous scholar athlete awards and other notable achievements.
Walsh’s good friend, first-year Jeff Cruz has known Walsh since the third grade, playing in AYSO with him as well as competing with him on Ayala High School’s Track and Field team. Cruz remembers Walsh as a happy guy who was always upbeat and never down.
Walsh’s friends even dubbed him ‘the fastest white guy’ they know.
On Friday, April 29, a memorial service was held in honor of Walsh in Chino. The service was filled and there was little to no walking room. Behind the chairs were track and field medals, a yearbook with Walsh’s senior picture, as well as a scrapbook filled with pictures.
The most memorable picture was one of Walsh still a little boy lying down in the grass and making a funny face up into the camera. The innocence captured in that picture was the light that attracted him to so many people, a light that was not flickering or wavering, but an illumination of love and respect that always showed in his smile.
Walsh, for someone who was only 18, had an amazing outlook on life. His goals were at times unimaginable, but somehow, and some way, he always managed to pull through.
‘I can remember [Walsh] always talking about the future, and the things we do today reflect it,’ said Walsh’s girlfriend Crystal. ‘He told me that he didn’t want to take out any loans for college because he didn’t want to be in debt when he got out.’
This past week, Walsh’s efforts on the track began to manifest.
According to Cesar, two Fridays ago Walsh and second-year sociology major with a minor in management, Storm Huie ran the best track workout that he’d seen them run.
‘Looking back at other workouts, I was seeing him do things that he hadn’t done,’ Cesar said. ‘This made me really realize that he, [through] his effort[s], was destined for good things. James ran 36.63 in the 300 meters that day and 22.67 in the 200. His goal was to break 50 seconds in the 400, and it was well within reach.’
Huie, who was actually the last of Walsh’s teammates to have had the pleasure of working out with him, commented, ‘James Walsh was a lot of things to a lot of people, but looking back on the time I got to know him, the number one thing I can say about him is this, and simply this: James was my friend.’
‘James was a truly genuine individual, one of those rare friends that come around once every lifetime,’ Huie said. ‘He cared for all his teammates, and he took great pride in not only his own accomplishments, but also for the triumphs and successes of his teammates. His words and actions will forever hold memories in our hearts as the teammates, athletes and friends that we were to him. Having had the opportunity to [know] him was priceless, and he will never be forgotten because of that,’ said Huie.
‘Words cannot even begin to describe how much I’ll miss James,’ Huie said. ‘And all of the intangibles he brought to our [UCI track and field] team and the relationships he was able to build with all of us.’