Tom Walker, Walk to Cure Arthritis national adult honoree and former MLB pitcher, claims that it’s truly “mind over matter” when it comes to his osteoarthritis (OA) pain. Every day, he rises up and pushes forward, despite the obstacles – like having a harder time walking – that challenge him.
Tom describes himself as the “poster child” for arthritis, a disease that’s followed him for 40+ years. When he was 25 years old and playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, he headed to Florida for spring training, and midway through training joint pain spread from his elbow to his shoulder, making it impossible to ignore anymore.
Tom was referred to a rheumatologist who diagnosed him with gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis. He immediately started medications to control the inflammation and tame the pain, which allowed him to walk again. However, the pain cost him a season: He couldn’t play, and that was emotionally hard.
“I didn’t know that taking a season on the bench was just the beginning for me and my arthritis, Tom says. “Professional sports have a lot of highs and lows – winning a game and then losing another one – which is very much like osteoarthritis. You have good days and bad days. Pro ball definitely prepared me for what lied ahead.”
In 1978, Tom officially retired from major league baseball due to the progression of his OA.
“I just couldn’t throw ‘hard enough’ for the big leagues anymore. The pain in my shoulder and elbow was too severe and halted my career,” he says.
Tom moved on and spent 30+ years working for health care corporations and raising his family. And now he’s fortunate enough to enjoy 10 grandchildren, ranging from six months to eight years old. Along with enjoying life, he has also spent countless hours caring for his health and has endured two full knee and hip replacements – and most likely a shoulder replacement is on the horizon.
When Tom hung up his corporate hat in 2014, his wife, along with his son, Neil Walker (who plays for the New York Mets), urged him to get involved and stay active. Before he could say “No, I want to bask in the glory of retirement,” Neil coordinated a meeting with the Arthritis Foundation.
The Arthritis Foundation Great Lakes office asked Tom to be the local honoree for the Walk to Cure Arthritis in Pittsburgh … and the rest is history.
“I realized quickly that this is the perfect organization for me to give back. I have arthritis and it’s impacted my life, though not controlled it,” Tom says. “Through my involvement, I learned more about the disease and the Foundation, and it has allowed me to be able to help others conquer their arthritis by having a strong mind and positive perspective.”
Tom points out that even though he has challenges – OA and being legally blind in one eye from an eye stroke – his problems pale in comparison to others. As he says, “There’s always someone who has greater challenges than you, and you must put things ahead of your arthritis and go about your day.”