In February 2010, UGA women’s tennis coach Jeff Wallace and his team were in Madison, Wis. for the national indoor tournament. They lost, but Wallace won a different battle that weekend.
Wallace’s son, Jarryd, had been struggling for three years with complications from leg surgery. The Wallace family had unsuccessfully tried varying methods to restore mobility to his leg.
That weekend in Madison, they arranged for Jarryd to see an orthopedic specialist. The specialist told them Jarryd had the leg of an 80-year-old man and amputation was inevitable.
“When he put it like that, in some sense it was a little bit of relief,” said the UGA coach. “There were still questions, but part of it was like I wasn’t really afraid; I was almost hopeful.”
Five years after his amputation, Jarryd is a strong contender to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics track and field competition in Rio de Janeiro.
The 2007-2009 seasons, when Georgia’s women won three consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament titles, appeared to be a flawless time for the program. For Wallace, those years were everything but off the court.
“I look back on this entire process and I’d say it was harder for my dad than it was for me,” Jarryd said.
Jarryd lost the mobility in his right leg due to complications from surgery to release pressure in his leg muscles known as compartment syndrome. Wallace had no concerns about Jarryd’s initial surgery because Wallace’s wife, Sabina, had the surgery on both legs and had no issues.
But after Jarryd endured a few days of excruciating pain, Sabina took him to UGA’s rehabilitation director, Mike Dew.
Dew unwrapped the bandages and immediately instructed Sabina to take Jarryd back to the doctor. Sabina phoned Wallace, who was already in Atlanta, and he met her at Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta.
Jarryd underwent emergency surgery, as over 60 percent of his leg muscles were dead. He had more than 10 surgeries over the next several days.
“I know there are many times, now, when my dad left the hospital room crying and went to a quiet room, got on his knees and started praying,” Jarryd said.
Jarryd’s parents had separate self-proclaimed “crying halls” in the hospital. Despite his feelings, Wallace found it important to be strong for Jarryd.
“If I had seen him be that emotional then I would’ve been scared,” Jarryd said. “That’s one of the reasons why he’s such as successful coach. He can really read circumstances or situations and he knows how he needs to respond in that moment.”
Wallace recalled a vulnerable father-son moment.
“I remember him saying to me ‘Hey Dad, don’t worry. If God wants my leg, I’ll give it to him and we’ll go on with a great life.’ That’s probably what made me cry more than anything else was his mature attitude,” the UGA tennis coach said.
At one point, Wallace and his wife had to care for Jarryd at home, as he lay on a floor mattress with open wounds awaiting skin grafts. Wallace had the morning shift, then would leave for practice.
Methods used to attempt to restore Jarryd’s mobility ranged from hyperbaric oxygen chambers to a Taylor Spatial Frame to consecutive surgeries.
Immediately after his specialist appointment in Wisconsin, Jarryd began a Google search of Paralympic track and field records when he returned to the hotel. He called his parents into his room.
“They were looking at the times and were like ‘Oh, you can run that. Oh, for sure,’” said Jarryd.
Running has been an element of the Wallace family from the beginning. Jarryd, along with his older sister, Brittany, accompanied Wallace and Sabina, a former All-SEC distance runner for Georgia, in a baby jogger as the couple ran 5-kilometer races and trained for marathons.
A little more than 12 weeks after Jarryd’s amputation, the Wallace men shared another moment.
“He was the first one to go on a run with me,” Jarryd said of his father. “It lasted about seven minutes, but it was awesome. We pushed it to where I physically couldn’t pick my knee up.
“We turned around and walked back and I was like ‘Oh, I’m fine!’ and he was like ‘Alright, are you sure?’ ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ ‘Alright.’ We kind of raced a little bit at the end because that’s what we always did at the end of our runs.”
Wallace’s coaching and fatherly side conjoined as he provided the resources to ensure Jarryd’s Paralympic ambitions were met.
In addition to covering Jarryd’s prosthetics (ranging from $15,000 to $20,000 for competitive blades and $7,000 to $12,000 for what Wallace calls his “everyday legs”), Wallace arranged for Jarryd to continue rehabilitation at UGA.
Jarryd set his fourth world record this past summer at the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games. The background on his father’s office computer is a picture of Jarryd posing with his gold medal next to the scoreboard with his record-setting time.
Wallace incorporates Jarryd’s story when coaching his athletes.
“Sometimes they’re tired and they don’t want to do this or don’t feel like practicing today,” Sabina said, “yet he sees them when they get injured and it’s made him realize that you’ve got to take advantage of every situation you have. Jarryd came in and spoke to the team a lot after all of this.”
Wallace reconciled this tribulation as a coach. While he’s always believed in the power of hard work, Jarryd’s journey reaffirmed Wallace’s belief system.
“At the same time, it was very motivating and inspiring,” said Wallace. “I hope in some little way I’ve been able to rub that off onto some of my athletes.”
Kendra Hansey is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.