Jarryd Wallace of Team United States reacts after competing in the men's 100 meter - T64 final at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on August 30, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
For all he concedes about the daily potential for agenda-altering twists, Jarryd Wallace is a planner by nature. That is all the more important now as he and his wife, Lea Babcock, each juggle rigorous enterprises with a 2.5-year-old son, Levi, who is nearing peak impressionability.
“He’s one sharp cookie,” said Wallace, a three-time U.S. Paralympian in track and field. “You gotta be careful what you say, ’cause he’ll remind you really quick.”
Sometimes Levi does not need words to lend motivational reminders.
COVID-19 pushed off the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, buying another year’s worth of training and the otherwise irreplaceable chance to witness more of Levi’s milestones.
“Not having traveling and being gone all the time,” Wallace, 32, said, “it was a real sweet time that we were able to spent with him.”
But that paused when the athletic payoff arrived. When Wallace’s moment finally came and he won his first Paralympic medal by taking third in the men’s 200-meter, Lea and Levi were on the other side of the world. The pandemic that pushed the Tokyo Games back a year lingered, so fans could still not attend the event and foreign visitors such as families were unable to make the trip altogether.
“I didn’t get to take him on that victory lap,” Wallace said.
That said, delayed gratification is still gratification. When Wallace returned to his Athens, Georgia, home, he relished watching Levi race through the house with the medal around his neck.
Moments like that helped Wallace appreciate the collective investment in his Paralympic journey.
“The army behind me that helped me get there is really the one that should be celebrated,” Wallace said.
Sharing the glory in moments like that one helped give Wallace a jumpstart on his next Paralympic campaign for 2024 in Paris.
Now, amid what he calls “my favorite year” in the athletic quadrennial, he intends to keep being more proactive than reactive at home.
“My goal this year is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer,” he said. “I want to be able to walk into the house and set the tone for the environment.”
Tone-setting is also crucial to a season of change. Along with a new coaching staff, Wallace is taking on new events ahead of the next world championships in 2023 and the Paris Games that follow.
Having notched that first Paralympic medal in the same event that yielded two of his three world championships golds, he decided, “I definitely accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in the 200.”
His focus instead has shifted to the 100-meter and long jump. The latter, he said, suits his “super technical” tendencies and “competitive spirit.”
Those traits are budding in Levi, too. He will test his mind through puzzles, then dispense boundless physical energy through pure running, tennis or golf. (“He’s killing my handicap right now,” Wallace said.)
Sports and family are deeply engrained in the Wallaces. Jarryd Wallace gets his knack for track from his mother, Sabine, a former University of Georgia distance runner. For lessons in balancing parenthood and high-end athletics, he can turn to his dad, one of the most decorated college tennis coaches in the country.
In a tenure that dates to 1986, Jeff Wallace has led the Georgia Bulldogs to six national titles and more wins than any other active women’s tennis coach. Yet for all he put into that powerhouse, when he came home he was always all-in on being dad.
That balance was a straightforward lesson for Jarryd, the future holder of multiple Para track and field world records.
“He just showed up and gave us 100 percent of him,” said Jarryd Wallace. Having seen and felt that, he reasons, “I can give 100 percent of myself in different areas.”
For Jarryd, that means emulating Jeff’s “full dad mode” and taking on the bulk of the parenting duties. In doing so he has helped Babcock achieve her own delayed gratification as she got her get her health and nutrition coaching business rolling.
Between Babcock’s work with her clients and Wallace’s continued attention to his Leg in Faith Foundation, both of Levi’s parents exemplify sharing their wealth.
“How do you use the positions that you’ve been in, the opportunities that you’ve been given to serve and love others?” is Wallace’s prompt to himself and, by extension, Levi. “I hope that’s what I’m most remembered by when I leave the sport.”
His “when” will likely arrive in September 2024, after the Paris Games, when Levi is going on 5 years old.
Having learned to harness time during his previous Paralympic buildup, Wallace wants an encore, albeit with more predictability. His trek to Tokyo was the household’s first “full family, team effort.”
“Hopefully (we will) kind of be able to rinse and repeat this as we go into Paris,” he said.