Jack Wallace competes at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 15, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist and Paralympic kayaking hopeful Jack Wallace wants the United States to have a strong presence in Paracanoe.
But it’s not going to be easy.
“It’s a sport where you don’t see a lot of young athletes do very well at with the exception of obviously Nevin Harrison,” he said. Harrison at age 17 became the first American to medal at the sprint canoe world championships last year, winning gold in the C-1 200-meter. “It does take time to build that technique and those muscle groups.”
The 22-year-old Wallace began training in Paracanoe about a year ago, and he’s encountered a series of obstacles: First, it was the COVID-19 pandemic, then it was an injury.
“I’m not counting out Tokyo by any means, but I already had a very small chance of qualifying,” he said. “(I’m) just trying to stay positive through it all, and make the most of every situation.”
The dual sport athlete a couple weeks ago sustained an injury to his left elbow, and he is awaiting word from doctors as to his next steps. There is a possibility he will need surgery, and, if he does, he will be sidelined from practice for five months.
“Five months of zero training,” he said, adding, “if there’s a time to (have surgery), it’s right now.”
Wallace decided to take up kayaking when he was living in New Jersey. He noticed it was a challenge to find time to practice on ice for hockey during the summers, and it was too expensive if he did find time.
He was using a rowing machine in the gym, and it was a good cardio workout.
While the classification system in Para rowing didn’t mix well with his disability, he took a liking to Paracanoe.
“I was like, ‘Well, I like the idea of being out on the water, and being outside all day,’” he said. “Then, I was like, ‘What else can I do?’”
Training for kayaking and hockey use similar muscle groups. Kayaking, he said, is “a sport of perfection” whereas hockey is more skill based, and, “a game of mistakes.”
“Every mistake you make (in kayaking) shaves seconds off,” he said. “It’s really how perfect and how in shape you can be when the day comes. How good is your technique? How strong are you? How good is your cardio?”
He reached out to the head coach of the U.S. Paracanoe team and few of its athletes. They saw potential, and they offered to assist. When Wallace took the sport seriously, the plan was to train for kayaking in the mornings, hockey in the afternoons, and lift at nights.
When lockdown restrictions were enforced around the country because of COVID-19, Wallace was unable to go kayaking and lift weights. So he did workouts from his basement, including a routine of push ups and pull ups.
Wallace, by luck, had devices that simulated rowing (called a rower) and skiing (skier) on hand.
“Thank God,” he said.
Wallace was in Florida when lockdown restrictions were loosened, and he trained with members of the Paracanoe national team.
He said the postponement of the Games was “another screwball” in an already difficult process of qualifying. Wallace’s first real competition in kayaking is slated to be the postponed world championships, which were due to be held in May in Duisburg, Germany. It is his only chance to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
The kayaker said doubts have crossed his mind that he will end up not qualifying for the Games.
“Those are definitely real, especially with this injury kind of looming and surgery taking away five months of training, if not more,” he said. “It’s scary, and it’s a real possibility of not qualifying. I haven’t guaranteed it to anyone.”
Doubts aside, the Paralympic gold medalist is doing all he can to succeed in hockey and kayaking. If he doesn’t qualify for Tokyo, he said he wants to compete for the Paris 2024 Games.
In the meantime, Wallace will have only six months to reach peak performance for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games to continue his sled hockey success.
“As of right now, I’m kind of all in on sports for a little bit, and it’s not a bad time to be doing it.”