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Jarryd Wallace still dreams of running in the Olympic Games.
Except now, he dreams of doing so on one leg.
Even if you don’t believe your life can follow the course of a positive outlook, keep reading. And suspend your disbelief long enough to grasp this story. Jarryd Wallace just might make a believer out of you.
Five springs ago, Jarryd won two AAA state championships. The Oconee County High School junior won both the 800 and 1600 meter runs.
And why not? He comes from good stock. His mother, the former Sabina Marie Horne, was an all-SEC distance runner at Georgia. She’s also a member of the North Bay, Ontario Hall of Fame.
His father, Jeff, has been the women’s tennis coach at UGA for the past 26 years.
So it came as no surprise that Georgia offered Jarryd a track scholarship, which he eagerly accepted. This made Jarryd the first son of a UGA female athlete to also be granted a scholarship.
“Just to be a junior in high school and have a school like the University of Georgia offer you a scholarship was just like a surreal experience,” Jarryd told myfoxatlanta.com. “It was like, this is really cool, an amazing opportunity. And it really drove me to work even harder.”
Which is difficult to imagine. Jarryd always had an incredible passion for running. He began most mornings with a run through the streets of Watkinsville. “I’d say it’s something I’ve been a part of my whole life,” he told myfoxatlanta.com. “I always joke around and say I ran before I walked!”
And then, suddenly, Jarryd couldn’t run any more.
He began experiencing pain in his lower right leg whenever he ran. He had felt similar pain in the spring of 2007, but was able to run through it to those two state titles.
To a runner, there’s nothing worse than a nagging pain that keeps you from enjoying what you love most. All you want to know is why you have the pain, and how you can make it disappear.
By November, Jarryd had his answer. He was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. This extremely painful condition is caused by swelling within groups of muscles in an arm or leg. The nerves and blood vessels become compressed, resulting in a dangerous build-up of pressure.
Jarryd had surgery to correct his condition in late November, 2007. A few days later, his physical therapist discovered that the surgery had been unsuccessful. Within the next two weeks, Jarryd underwent five more surgeries and lost 60 percent of his lower leg muscle.
Even worse was the doctor’s prognosis that Jarryd would never walk normally again. Much less run.
So he did what all runners do. He trained. High intensity physical therapy. Hours daily in a hyperbaric chamber.
On January 30, 2008, he walked again.
He spent the next year fighting the odds, trying to get back on the track. He even tried a Taylor Spatial Frame on his leg. This device utilizes 11 pins and needles in an attempt to train the leg muscles to realign so that Jarryd’s foot would straighten out. The process took six months and kept Jarryd on crutches.
But it worked. For a month. Then his foot began rotating back. Another surgery in October, 2009, failed to realign his foot. Jarryd soon faced a realization. A doctor in Wisconsin asked him what he wanted to do with his life.
“I said I wanted to be able to have kids and play with them in the yard, and to have a 9-to-5 job where I can stand on my feet all day and be able to come home and not be in pain or tired,” Jarryd told onlineathens.com. “He basically told me that was unrealistic. He said it wasn’t a matter of if, but when I was going to lose my leg. He said I had an 80-year-old leg on a 20-year-old body.”
And how did Jarryd face the prospect of losing his leg? He told his Dad, “If God wants my leg, he can go ahead and have it,” Jarryd recalled for onlineathens.com. “That’s not going to stop us from going on and having a great life.”
That very same day, Jarryd showed his parents a website that listed Paralympic medalists and record-holders. “I want my name next to theirs,” he told them, according to the New York Times.
Jarryd’s leg was amputated on June 2, 2010. Six weeks later, he took his first steps on his prosthetic leg. Three months after that, he was running again, at long last. On January 6, 2011, he began training for his first race.
Boy, did he train. With the heart and soul of someone given a second chance with his first love. Incredibly, Jarryd qualified for the United States team for the Parapan American Games, the Paralympic counterpart to the Pan American Games. And in November, he won the 100-meter dash in a time of 11.31 seconds, the fastest time in the world last year.
“The whole thing has just been so surreal,” Jarryd told onlineathens.com. “The whole experience was just so humbling. And I keep wondering when I’m going to wake up. Having my hand over my chest and singing the national anthem after I won … that was exactly what I dreamed about as a kid.”
Next up this summer: the US Paralympic Trials in Indianapolis. If Jarryd finishes in the top three, he’ll qualify for the Paralympic Games in London.
“I’d be lying if I said I think it’s going to be easy,” Jarryd told onlineathens.com. “But it’s definitely something I want to do.”
I wouldn’t bet against him. After all, who’s going to stop him from having a great life?