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Running with God: Jarryd Wallace's triumphant return to the track - The Red and Black : Sports

Running with God: Jarryd Wallace's triumphant return to the track

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 11:00 am | Updated: 9:40 am, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

Jarryd Wallace has always been fast.

Onlookers knew it when he won Georgia state titles in the 800 and 1,600-meter races while at Oconee County High School. They knew it when UGA offered him a scholarship to run track and cross country for the Bulldogs.

And they certainly knew it when Wallace earned a spot on Team USA during the 2012 Paraympic Games in London.

Wallace is an elite sprinter among his peers, and it just so happens that he is also an amputee.

It is a title that some might consider a curse, given the relative disadvantages he faces since his right leg was amputated below the knee. But then again, Wallace is not your average individual.

“I joke with people and say the prosthetic was actually an upgrade from what I had before, and it was easier to walk on a prosthetic than it was on my real leg because of its deformity,” Wallace said. "I look at it as a blessing that the Lord took me through that two and a half years of disability from a sense of not being able to function with my leg to getting my prosthetic and having an option."

Wallace, the son of Georgia women's tennis coach Jeff Wallace and former All-American distance runner Sabina Wallace, suffers from compartment syndrome, a condition that cuts off blood flow to the limbs and extremities.
It flared up as early as his sophomore year in high school – pain in his legs that doctors initially had called "stress reactions," or the beginnings of a stress fracture. But the pain was recurring for Wallace, often forcing him to take weeks off of his training regimen so that he could allow his legs to recuperate. And despite all of it, he was still able to post some remarkable race times.
But Wallace's mother, who also suffered from compartment syndrome, began thinking the issue might be more serious than initially indicated.
"I did what I could around the pain. It definitely hindered my consistency from a training standpoint, but we just had to work around it. I got to the point where [I’m thinking] ‘am I injury prone, or is something else?," he said. "We started wondering what are the odds of me having it too, and then we learned that the chronic case is actually hereditary."
That hunch proved to be correct: Wallace was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. Corrective surgery appeared to be his best option at the time, given his desire to continue with competitive running. And so during the winter of his senior year in high school, Wallace underwent the first of what would be many surgeries on his right leg.
The treatment did not go as planned.
"Due to complications from the first surgery, I lost 60 percent of my muscle from the knee down," Wallace said. "We pretty much learned really quick that I wasn’t going to go back to normal. [The leg] was very deformed and consistently in pain, and I was addicted to pain medication at that point."

Through all of Wallace's trials, however, it was still believed that he would be able to return to his once-striking form on the track. Georgia would make him a scholarship offer during his senior year, which he accepted, and both parties went forward believing Wallace would one day make a full recovery.

"Basically, right when I got out of the hospital I actually signed with Georgia because we were pretty sure I was going to be able to run again [at that point]," he said. "Georgia actually honored the scholarship that they had offered me and brought me onto the team my freshman year. I was able to help them with recruiting and be at practice and hang out. That was just a great thing that the University did."

But Wallace did not return to form. Through surgery after surgery, removing dead muscle and fighting infection, he remained on the sideline, kept from competing in the sport that he loved.
It was a dark time for Wallace, who had not only lost the ability to run, but also one of the primary focuses of his life up to that point.
"There was during that time a lot of anger, a lot of frustration," Wallace said. "There was definitely a period for about a year, year and a half where I was angry at God for allowing that to happen. Posed the obvious question ‘why me?’ And ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ That definitely sent me into a spiral for a while. I just started drinking and living a promiscuous lifestyle and lost focus of who I was and where I was going."

It was during what was perhaps Wallace's lowest point, however, that an unlikely solution to his problems would arise. 

He met with Dr. William Turnipseed in Wisconsin, who upon informing Wallace that he had an "80 year-old leg on a 20 year-old's body," suggested he have it amputated below the knee in hope that it would serve as a relief to the pain Wallace had battled for so long.

As is his nature, Wallace's decision was made quickly.

"It was in that meeting where I mentally made the decision that I was going to have my leg amputated," he said. "I started Googling and doing my own research. I came across the Paralympic world records. I called my parents and said ‘I want my name to be on this list.’"

Finally, on June 22, 2010, doctors amputated Jarryd Wallace's right leg below the knee, and he began learning how to walk using a prosthetic.

Not even 15 months later, Wallace took the gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 2011 ParaPan American Games in Mexico. And then one year later, Wallace was chosen to represent the United States on its national team as a 4x100 relay alternate in the 2012 Paralympic games in London, an unexpected but thrilling outcome for the Athens native.

"I look at London as a blessing because there’s not many other stages until Rio 2016 that I’m gonna run and 80,000 people are going to be watching. That was a big pressure moment, in a sense, and so it’s almost like every other race since then, you can’t really compare it. That was really a great experience to have," he said.

Now, having already competed in two major international events, Wallace prepares for his third in the International Paralympic Committee World Championships, set for Lyon, France from July 19-28. 

And with almost three years of racing experience on his prosthetic limb, Wallace feels as confident as ever.

"I think a lot has to do with experience. I think being in the training environment for three years and getting more adapted to full-time training. I’m healthy for the first time in my career," Wallace said. "This season is the first full season I've had pain free and being able to train consistently."

Throughout his journey back to the track, Wallace praised those around him for support in his endeavors: his family, his faith and the resources made available to him.

It was enough that Wallace has even gone so far as to start the A Leg In Faith foundation to help amputees like himself get off and running.

"I started thinking ‘how many more people are out there that have maybe an even more impactful story, but just haven’t had the opportunity that I was given? And what would that look like if they did?’" Wallace said. "It led to the passion to start a foundation. The vision for our foundation is to lead and develop the future for paralympic sports. Our goal is to provide running prostheses and devices for amputees that don’t have the resources." 

Wallace's remarkably speedy turnaround serves as a source of inspiration to many, and it may even surprise those who read it.

But Jarryd Wallace has always been fast, and this race back to greatness was no different.

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