Every day for the last nine months, South Tahoe’s wrestling coach Ryan Wallace has had the same routine: wake up, listen to sports radio, drink a cup of coffee, workout, read, write, make phone calls, play with his dog, Rosie, then “rinse and repeat.”
The longtime coach, and even longer-term member of the community,was sidelined this season due to injuries leaving him unable to work, coach and rendering him immobile.
The 30-year-old Wallace began wrestling at the age of 5 and competitively at 9 competing for South Tahoe Wrestling Club and the middle school. He spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school wrestling for South Tahoe High School and junior and senior years at Aptos High School near Santa Cruz.
Between those junior and senior years, doctors discovered tumors in his right leg. The tumors weakened his leg and, two weeks before the state tournament of his senior year, he broke his tibia in a match. He continued to finish out the season.
After high school, he broke his leg again while skiing and the blood that pooled around the injury to heal it actually created a large tumor. Wallace had his leg amputated on Sept. 13, 2004.
“I am not sorry I had my leg amputated,” said Wallace. “Being an amputee has provided me opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.”
Two months later he started as the assistant wrestling coach at South Tahoe High School and, soon after, added the title of head coach at South Tahoe Middle School.
“When I took over the middle school team, there were five kids the year before,” said Wallace. “Now, I end every season with 25-35 kids.”
Wallace attended Cuesta College in 2009 and wrestled for one season, but today he continues the coaching jobs at the high school and middle school and has done so for the past 10 years, during which time he has also worked as the instructional assistant at the middle school during the school year and, in the summer, as the recreational department manager at the Sportsman.
With all the stress put on his prosthetic leg over the last 10 years— prosthetic legs generally last seven to eight years— the hinge at the knee became too loose to provide proper balance and forced Wallace to put tremendous pressure on his other foot.
Last June, Wallace was doing yard work at the middle school and suffered an injury to his biological foot. The injury kept him away from the high school wrestling team for the entire season.
“The simultaneous loss of function in both my prosthetic and my human foot abruptly took my ability to do almost everything I love,” he said. “The biggest loss is not coaching and being directly involved in the lives of young people I care about and have worked with for a long time.”
The leg Wallace had was one of the best legs available, according to Clint Jonutz, an American Board Certified Prosthetist at Anchor Orthotics and Prosthetics in Sacremento where Wallace is a patient.
The knee on the leg Wallace currently has is called an autobot c-leg. It’s a micro-processing leg that calculates the weight and knows when to bend.
“The c-leg allows the patient to walk more relaxed,” said Jonutz.
The cost of this leg is approximately $25,000 and, to the uninsured Wallace, is impossible to afford alone.
After learning to walk on a particular leg, getting a different model would be a step backward and Wallace would have to learn to walk all over again.
Jonutz, along with Chad Reilly of SMC National marketing firm and the South Tahoe wrestling team have put together a video and fundraiser to help raise the money to get Wallace back into the wrestling scene. The video includes members of the high school wrestling team and shows how important their coach is to the them. The video can be seen on Anchor Orthotics home page and has been making the rounds on Facebook.
Anchor Orthotics and Prosthetics is able to donate part of the new leg, but is unable to cover it all.
The injury from June has been unable to heal because of the weight being put on it from his prosthetic leg not working properly. A new leg would allow the injury to heal and get Wallace back to coaching and working at the school.
“I intend to view that leg as a reminder every morning when I put on that this is a product of the kindness of many people,” said Wallace. “I will use it as motivation to be the best possible version on myself everyday.”
Though unable to be there in person, Wallace continues to be part of the team.
“During the wrestling season, I would watch film of the past weekend’s matches and write notes of encouragement to the wrestlers,” he said.
Though being home more-or-less all day, Wallace doesn’t consider the time lost.
“Never have I had so much quiet time to introspect and improve myself as a person,” said Wallace. “Already, in the early stages of the process, I have rekindled nearly forgotten relationships, been uplifted hourly by incredibly kind words, and been awed by the speed at which a message can spread organically in our connected world.”
Wallace was unaware of the video being made for him, but after finding out, he wants to use it as a way to teach his teams about teamwork, achieving goals and not making excuses.
“I want it to show the kids that I coach, and really everyone, that any ambitious goal can be achieved if everyone pitches in. That if they dedicate themselves to making a positive impact and making good choices that their wrestling family, and community, will support them in a time of need,” said Wallace.
The fundraiser started on Feb. 25 and continues for the following 53 days with an ending goal of $25,000. Donations had reached $5,684 by Friday morning.
“We’re shooting for the moon, but we’ll be happy with what we get,” said Jonutz.
“I am not sure I deserve it, but I guarantee every person that shared (the video) or donated will know it was worth it when I return,” said Wallace.
The middle school season starts as soon as the high school season ends and goes through the end of March with practices from 2-4 p.m. at the middle school and Wallace encourages anyone with wrestling experience to join.