By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATHENS, Ga. – Jarryd Wallace made the 2012 Paralympics one of his primary goals on the same day that he decided to have elective surgery to have his leg amputated.
Wallace, a one-time University of Georgia track and field signee and the son of Georgia women’s tennis coach Jeff Wallace, had a promising future in his chosen sport. He was the 2006 Georgia state high school cross country champion and claimed the 800m at the Georgia state high school track and field championships in 2007.
During his senior year of high school, Wallace began experiencing pain in his right leg that he assumed was related to shin splints.
The diagnosis was much worse.
“He was doing good and was getting recruited by a lot of colleges,” Jeff Wallace said. “He developed compartment syndrome and went in to have the compartments released. Basically, over a two-year period, he had over 10 surgeries on his leg. It got to the point where, after visiting doctors and trying to figure out the best thing to do to be as functional as possible, they started saying that they thought amputation would give him the best mobility.”
But it wasn’t an easy decision for Jarryd Wallace to make.
“I was raised in a Christian household but, in the beginning, my faith faltered,” he said. “During that time, I was angry and frustrated and wanting to know ‘Why me?’ ‘Why did this happen?’ and ‘What if this didn’t happen?’ I fought with that for a long time. I just got tired and I knew there was something bigger.”
He went to see Dr. William Turnipseed in Madison, Wisc., who helped make sense of things for Jarryd Wallace.
“He told Jarryd that he had the leg of an 80-year-old man on a 20-year-old man’s body,” Jeff Wallace said. “At that point, it didn’t really hit home with Jarryd. He started looking at different activities and videos of amputees. He was looking at track records and he saw that these people are really functional and can do an amazing amount of things.”
That information was all Jarryd Wallace needed to know in order to do what was best for his health and his mobility.
“I called my parents into my hotel room the day I decided to have my leg amputated,” Jarryd Wallace said. “I said, ‘Here are the world records, I want my name on this list and I want to be in London.’”
It wasn’t just his parents whom Jarryd Wallace informed of his goal. He was making sure to hold himself accountable to his new expectations.
“I even emailed the Paralympics coach Cathy Sellers and said ‘My name is Jarryd Wallace, I’m going to have my leg amputated in a few months and my goal is to be on your team in London in 2012,’” Jarryd Wallace said. “A little over two-and-a-half years later, she was the lady who was calling me telling me that I made the team.”
It was a decision of which Jarryd Wallace’s father was quite proud.
“I think that was phenomenal and very inspiring,” Jeff Wallace said. “That’s such a hard decision for anybody to make, let alone for someone who is 20 years old. It turned out to be the right decision. It took a lot of courage to make that decision. He hasn’t looked back, he’s just moved forward and made the best of it. I’ve been inspired by watching him make the best of a tough situation.”
The recovery process wasn’t an easy one but, the fact that Jarryd Wallace had his next goal already in mind, gave him an added determination. Getting back out and running again after his surgery came with its share of obstacles, but he continued to persevere.
“It made all the difference,” he said. “You have to set a goal, assess the situation and move forward instead of treading water and hoping you don’t get bit by a shark. It was one thing that I could constantly hold on to. Some days it was tough, some days it hurt. My first run that I went on was only six minutes and I couldn’t move my knee any more after that. There were days I could barely make it through my workout. So many things that happened are just part of the process. I think my goal from day one had a lot to do with the early success that I was able to accomplish.”
He sought out former Georgia teammate Ross Ridgewell, a native Australian and a former All-America runner for the Bulldogs, to be his coach.
“He was actually my host on my recruiting trip at Georgia,” Jarryd Wallace said. “We ended up being really good friends and we’re now like brothers. I asked him if he wanted to be my coach, we shared some laughs and a few tears. He accepted my offer and we began working together.”
Jarryd Wallace, who took a special liking to the 100-meter dash, first competed in the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma to qualify for the national championships. From there, he was selected to the ParaPan Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, last November. He claimed the gold medal in the 100m at that event in a time of 11.31.
At the Paralympic Trials in Indianapolis this past June, Jarryd Wallace did not qualify for the U.S. team, as he was not among the top-three finishers in either the 100m, 200m or 400m dashes. But he was selected as a coach’s choice by Sellers to represent the United States at the Paralympics.
“It was just so amazing to have your son running in the Paralympics,” Jeff Wallace said. “It is almost surreal and almost unbelievable. It took so much hard work, dedication and effort to get to that level. For Jarryd, it was the experience of a lifetime, just with the people that he met and the opportunities before, during and after. Just the whole Paralympic atmosphere, everybody’s got such an amazing story and it’s just so inspiring.”
At the Paralympics, Wallace was part of a 4x100-meter relay group that finished third before being disqualified due to a lane violation. He then finished sixth in the 400-meter dash in a time of 53.90. He placed second among single amputees.
“One athlete is a class T-43 with two below-the-knee prosthetics, while Jarryd is a T-44 with one below the leg prosthetic,” Jeff Wallace said. “There is a real difference and we saw some controversy this year between singles and doubles. I expect, in the future, they will be running in their own classifications; that would be the smart thing to do. Doubles do have a little bit of an advantage in the fact that they can raise their height, which would increase stride length.”
For Jarryd Wallace, the experience at the Paralympics was one of a lifetime.
“It was probably one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve had to date in my short 22 years of life, just being able to have an opportunity to race on the biggest stage in the history of the Paralympic movement and to have an opportunity to be a part of an amazing team was just great,” Jarryd Wallace said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about the movement. I’ve been a part of a lot of teams and my dad is a coach, but this was one of the coolest teams I’ve ever seen just with the stories that everybody has and the obstacles each individual has had to overcome.”
His time in London helped Jarryd Wallace learn to put his own situation into perspective and realize his relative good fortune.
“I think it just puts some things into perspective walking around the Olympic village,” Wallace said. “My disability pales in comparison to 99 percent of other disabilities – there are blind athletes, athletes with Cerebral Palsy, athletes missing both arms or both legs. It was a humbling, humbling experience and just a blessing to be a part of. I’ve definitely grown through that and learned a lot from the other athletes, and that helped my maturity as an individual.”
Pay it forward.
It’s a simple concept, but one that only a small number of people put into practice.
Jarryd Wallace, despite the hardships that he went through with compartment syndrome and the amputation of his leg, feels fortunate that he has persevered and achieved his goals. He wants his story to inspire others to keep going through whatever adversity they may be facing.
“I hope that becomes the story,” Jarryd Wallace said. “I hope that I can pay it forward because I had people who answered those questions for me. I had those doubts. I want to be able to leverage the situations I’ve been in, whether it be through my foundation, speaking engagements, meetings or acquaintances. I believe that it’s my calling to use the circumstances and situations I’ve been entrusted with to inspire others not to give up on their dreams.”
Wallace’s foundation is called A Leg in Faith and its mission is to give. Literally, as evidenced by the acronym:
• Grow awareness of amputee support
• Invest in the lives of amputees
• Visualize a future for amputees with no boundaries
• Enable amputees to “run” after that vision
A lot of the principles set in place for his foundation are aimed at providing fellow amputees the same support that Jarryd Wallace received from his own family, both athletes in their own right. His father Jeff Wallace lettered in tennis at Georgia, winning the 1984 SEC singles title at the No. 6 spot. His mother Sabina Wallace was a former All-SEC distance runner for the Bulldogs.
“The mission of the foundation was built around what they’ve done and that’s why it was so easy to start a foundation,” Jarryd Wallace said. “I just watched it and felt it from day one – the love, the concern and the support that they gave. I can’t imagine being in their position; it was by far harder for them than for me. They were there and there was not ever a moment where they lost heart, at least not in front of me. I can’t imagine any parents being stronger than they were through this process. Anybody who has met them can affirm that. I’m so grateful that I was blessed with them as my parents.”
Jarryd Wallace hopes to be able to aid fellow amputees in a similar way.
“I want to ultimately be the family for others that I had,” he said. “I want to be that for someone else, so I’m just trying to build the foundation around that mindset. The other thing is, if you walk off the street at a prosthetic store, it’s going to cost you about $20,000. Most people don’t have the savings fund built up for something like that. I want to be able to provide that. It’s a process and it takes time, but I’m so excited to see what comes out of it.”
A little more than a month after his experience in the Paralympics, Jarryd Wallace continues to move forward, as he always has.
“He wants to help others who have gone through situations like him and get them running legs,” Jeff Wallace said. “He’s getting back to school and he’s getting ready to start training for the World Championships in France next summer.”
When it comes to his foundation, A Leg in Faith held its second board meeting earlier this week and is continuing to develop towards the goals its leader set in place.
“If I can help one person get back or realize they have dreams and be active in that dream, then the foundation is a success,” Jarryd Wallace said. “I plan for it to be much bigger than that, but anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.”
Find out more about Jarryd Wallace and his foundation at www.aleginfaith.com.