Runner Jarryd Wallace, Former Oconee County High Standout, Nails Spot on U.S. Paralympics Team
One step at a time, he plans to run the race set before him.
He survived 10 surgeries on his withering leg, endured months of sadness and disappointment. He wondered if God had turned His back on him. Because what kind of God allows an young man in the prime of his physical powers to be stricken with a debilitating disease that renders one of his legs virtually useless?
Jarryd Wallace didn’t know. He didn’t understand what his response should be. He had been an elite distance runner, one of the best in the state, for most of his young life. All he wanted to do was run again.
His right leg had been afflicted with Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome, something usually repaired with surgery. In his case, there were serious complications after an operation that left it—a doctor told him--like an 80-year-old leg, one that would never carry him across a finish line again.
So in February of 2010, Jarryd made a decision, choosing an option that his parents and he hadn’t wanted to consider.
“The doctor asked me what did I want to do, in a perfect universe,” Jarryd said. “I said I wanted to run again, to be able to play with my kids, to be free from pain. And he said I would never be able to do it with my leg. I knew then what I wanted to do.”
He decided to have the lower part of his leg amputated. He would be able to stop being in pain, stop taking medications to control the pain, stop feeling as though his life was crippled. And he would be able to run again.
For the first time in more than two years, he felt at ease. He felt then, and now, that God had led him to his decision. Instead of running from God, he would be able to run with, and for, God.
So in June of 2010, Jarryd traveled to Indianapolis for the surgery. He was having the operation at the Indiana University-Purdue University Institute, a huge medical complex. With him went his mother Sabina Wallace and his father Jeff Wallace, head coach of the UGA Women’s Tennis Team.
Before the operation, Jarryd asked his parents to come close. He had brought his Bible with him, as he always did when he faced surgery. His parents had prayed for him before each of his other surgeries, he said. This time, he prayed for them.
“He was so concerned for us,” said Sabina Wallace, who ran track at Georgia in the 1980s “I was in awe. I thanked God for giving him so much peace about his decision.”
The surgery was successful. Jarryd spent months letting his leg heal, following the mandate of his doctors to the letter, going to physical therapy, learning to walk with a prosthetic. His altered leg shrank a little as it healed, and he had many different fittings before everything fit correctly. And he had to learn to trust his new foot.
He began running, with a blade. And in January 2011, Jarryd Wallace started training for the 2012 Paralympics. He had set state records while a student at Oconee County High School, he felt great, and grateful, so why not go for a shot at London?
For a coach, he contacted Ross Bridgewell, former captain of the UGA Track Team, a friend, an NCAA standout and All-American now living in Fort Valley. Bridgewell said he was honored that Jarryd wanted his help, and he agreed to coach him.
In the universe of elite running, 18 months isn’t usually enough time for someone who hasn’t run seriously in years to prepare for world-class competition. But in November 2011, Jarryd Wallace won gold in the 100-meter dash at the Pan American Games in Mexico with a time of 11.31 seconds.
This weekend, he ran in the Paralympics Track and Field Trials in Indianapolis, near the hospital where he had his leg amputated. He has trained hard, said Jeff Wallace, and has worked hard to compete at the trials.
“Whatever happens, I plan on running strong, but there’s going to be a lot of talent there,” Jarryd said. “I told the Lord, ‘Your will, your way.’ This time I ‘ll be running with God.”