A wet spring day didn’t stop what seemed like the entire town of Franklin Lakes, NJ, from welcoming Jack Wallace this past Tuesday. After all, it’s not every day that people meet a gold medalist who also happens to be their neighbor.
Wallace and his USA Sled Hockey Teammates beat Canada, 2-1, in overtime in the final at the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang. Wallace was on the ice for the game-winning goal.
“That’s definitely a memory I will never forget my whole life,” the 19-year-old says. “It was such an unbelievable moment, and I’m not even sure how to explain it. There was so much raw emotion from the whole team. It was just amazing.”
The amazing moment was the culmination a journey, one that took turns Wallace never could have expected.
Wallace’s first passion was hockey. He learned to skate at a young age and played competitively for travel teams in New Jersey. Wallace hoped to one day be good enough to compete at the highest levels of ice hockey. Then a freak boating accident in 2008, when he was only 10, seemed to sideline his dream.
“We were camping in Lake George,” Wallace recalls. “I got into a boating accident while waterskiing, where basically I ended up in front of the boat and something hit the throttle. It was an outboard motor so I got sucked underneath and the propellor tore apart my right leg. They amputated it above the knee.”
It would take two months for Wallace to be released from the hospital, after spending several days in a coma. Still, he thought about getting back on the ice. “I love the game so much,” he says. “I didn’t care about running or walking. I just wanted to be able to play hockey again.”
About a year after his accident, Wallace discovered sled hockey. Sled hockey is different from “standup hockey,” as Wallace calls it. According to the USA Hockey website, it “follows most of the typical ice hockey rules with the exception of some of the equipment. Players sit in specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades. There are two sticks for each player instead of one and the sticks have metal pics on the butt end for players to propel themselves.”
Wallace was excited about the possibilities that sled could offer him. “I thought to myself it was a way to keep playing,” he says. “I found out that there was such a thing as the Paralympic Games and the U.S. National Team, and I thought about how I could reach the highest potential within the sport. From that moment, in the back of my head, I made it my goal and that’s what I worked towards.”
All of Wallace’s hard work paid off. Having a street named after him in his hometown, as well as a parade where he got to ride in on a firetruck, inspired everyone present. It was clear what an impact Wallace has made in the hearts and minds of the many kids who screamed his name and asked for selfies.
Jack Wallace and Kid Reporter Christopher John
Asked if he ever looks back at his accident and feels sorry for himself, Wallace says, “Maybe a couple of time here and there, I have. But I try not to. My motto is, You get out of life what you put in. So if you are sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, you’re not getting anything out of life.”
Wallace has a bright future. When he isn’t studying for a degree in biomedical engineering, he is hoping to make the next Paralympic team, which will compete in Beijing in 2022. “I’d love to help Team USA get a fourth consecutive gold medal,” he says. “I want to be part of that legacy. But between now and then, I just to hope be able to play as many hockey games as I can."
Photo credit: Buda Mendes/Getty Images (Wallace at Olympics); Courtesy of Christopher John (2)