In 2012, sprinter Jarryd Wallace had one goal, to make the U.S. Paralympic Team for London. Check.
In 2013, his goal was grander. He wanted to win a gold medal and set a world record at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in France. Check.
Now, with the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro still more than two years away, Wallace has a less glamorous but no-less-important mission.
“The big goal for 2014 really breaks down to one word, and it’s consistency,” he said.
After winning the 200-meter world championship in a world-record 22.08 seconds in the T-44 classification and also winning gold with the record-setting 4x100 team (40.73), Wallace was ecstatic. But the victories just reaffirmed his belief that he hadn’t tapped into his full potential. He was essentially acting as his own coach — and having success — but he believed that he’d need help to reach a higher level.
So in November of last year, he hired Nic Taylor as coach, and the two have committed to work together through the 2016 Games. They’re using this year as a time to take a look at Wallace’s entire training regimen — from techniques to nutrition to competition game plans — and make changes with the aim of peaking in Rio.
“Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take a step forward,” said Wallace, 24, a student at the University of Georgia. “Sometimes change needs to be made.”
Wallace lost his right leg in a below-the-knee amputation in 2010 because of the effects of compartment syndrome, an affliction in which muscles and nerves were severely damaged because the connective tissue sheath around them was too confining, causing pressure to build up within.
Wallace, a state high school champion in the 800- and 1,600-meter and a scholarship track athlete at Georgia, quickly set his sights on becoming a Paralympian. Within 12 weeks of his amputation, he had his first running blade. And by January of 2011, he began seriously training.
Jeff Wallace, Jarryd’s father, told a reporter in 2013 that when his son knew he’d lose his leg, he looked up Paralympic track records on the Internet and set a goal.
“That was when Jarryd made up his mind he was going to do it,” Jeff Wallace said. “He put his finger on the (computer) screen and said, ‘I sure would like to have my name right there one day.’”
Helping Jarryd along in his first year was a coach who assisted him greatly with strength and conditioning but who didn’t have a lot of background in sprints, the events Wallace is running.
In 2011, Wallace made the ParaPan American Games team. He won a gold medal in the T-44 100 meters (11.31). The next year at the London Games, he finished sixth in the 400 meters (53.90).
By the time he headed for France last summer for the world championships, he was coaching himself and seeing improvements. He believed he had a good chance to win a gold medal. But since teaming with Taylor, a former collegiate track and field athlete and a 2014 U.S. Olympic Team hopeful in bobsled, Wallace knows he made the right choice to seek more help.
“We started from the basics,” Taylor said. “We focused first on nutrition, and then we started from a technical standpoint. I started working on my mechanics. We really haven’t gotten into fitness or getting strong, or getting fit to run a really, really fast time. We’ve really been working on mechanics and saying, you know, ‘If you can’t run 60 meters right, then how are you supposed to go out and run 100 or 200 meters proper?’
“We’re really starting very slow and taking baby steps.”
Wallace is eating better, focusing on mechanics and constantly evaluating his progress.
“Each week is a new week,” he said. “We reassess our goals, we reassess where we are and we adjust things accordingly.”
Now, as Wallace heads toward the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships at the College of San Mateo in California June 20-22, he’s excited to see what he can do.
He’ll run the 100 and 200 meters, and may run the 4x100-meter with his world-record teammates from last year if the situation feels right for all. He says he’s not going to focus on his place or even his times, but concentrate instead on following the game plans he and Taylor devise for each race and the techniques he’s been refining.
But he’s very encouraged. In his first competition this year, in the 100 meters at the Spec Towns National Team Invitational at the University of Georgia, Wallace ran a personal-best 11.13 in the 100 meters.
“It shows we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Just three and a half years after the start of his serious training as a Paralympic athlete, Wallace — a devout Christian who runs for God and whose website is A Leg in Faith (aleginfaith.com) — feels blessed that he’s been able to come so far so fast. The 2013 USA Track & Field Paralympic Male Athlete of the Year credits his family, friends and coaches for giving him everything he’s needed.
After going to one Games, having success at the world championships and getting a new coach to help guide him toward Rio de Janeiro, Wallace is excited to see what the next two years bring.
“It’s a blast,” he said. “Having a plan that is a long-term plan, and being able to be patient in that process, I believe is the key to success. … We are walking very patiently through this process.”
The end result could be golden.
“It feels like we’re a ticking time bomb ready to go off,” he says, laughing.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.