New documentary captures two local stories of tragedy turned into triumph
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Locals Ryan Wallace and Chris Cocores have fought against the odds to live life to its fullest, even when death was staring them in the face. A new movie debuting this week captures their struggles and successes as they continue to inspire the world around them.
For Wallace and Cocores, life has not always been a walk in the park. Wallace, the wrestling coach at South Tahoe High School, chose to have his leg amputated after an arduous fight with cancer.
Prior to being diagnosed, Wallace was told the pains in his legs were the result of growing pains or shin splints and went without receiving any relief. Ultimately, he gave up mentioning it. The pain became part of everyday life that he grew to accept.
“Wrestling literally saved my life,” Wallace said.
Because of injuries sustained in high school doctors found rare tumors growing in the cortex, rather than the marrow, of his leg bone.
“My leg broke because of the tumors, so I had to finish my senior year wrestling with a broken leg,” Wallace added.
“This rare cancer had only been seen four times before Ryan was seen at the University of San Francisco,” said Ryan’s father Duane Wallace. “Three of them died. Prayer is what we believe in, if there wasn’t a God, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Multiple surgeries occurred in a two-year period which caused other health concerns from the age of 18 to 20. A failed bone graft led to Wallace asking a question no 20-year-old should have to ask, “When will this kill me.”
The doctors were left with only one choice, life over limb. To save Ryan’s life he would become an amputee.
As Wallace awoke from surgery, while no longer in pain for the first time since fifth grade, a new question came to mind.
“What is my purpose? My life was wrapped up in athletics and physical achievements,” Wallace said.
The answer he hoped for came in the form of another question. Wallace was asked to coach wrestling.
“I immediately started relearning how to wrestle and do everything with one leg,” Wallace said. “My first prosthetic was a stick with a tennis ball on the end of it.”
Two short months after the decision, Wallace was spreading a new message.
“I’m not just teaching you how to wrestle,” he said, “I’m teaching you how to face your obstacles no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.”
Wallace has dedicated his life to the wrestlers he coaches. A group he describes as “those who not necessarily would be good at wrestling, but those who wrestling would be good for.”
In December of 2017, Cocores lost his girlfriend of over two years, Cecilia Casares, and his dog in a head-on collision.
“I spent five years building the life I had, and it vanished in a matter of seconds,” Cocores said.
In the accident he suffered seat belt syndrome.
“I was basically cut in half on the inside,” Cocores said. “I was lucky because I didn’t have any brain damage, but I was blind for two weeks, though, there wasn’t really a point that they thought I was for sure going to die.”
The impact of the seatbelt during the 80 mph collision resulted in gruesome internal injuries. Cocores suffered a broken back, internally severed intestines which resulted in extreme internal bleeding.
Miraculously, a witness reported Cocores pulled himself out of the car and crawled to the side of the road.
“I was fading in and out and had the most intense conversation with myself,” Cocores said. “I was talking myself back into it. I had a life changing conversation.”
Cocores said that his determination was driven by the disappointment in what he had yet to achieve.
In rough shape, Cocores was airlifted to Loma Linda Hospital where professionals worked swiftly to operate and stabilize.
“The first call I made when I woke up was to Ryan,” Cocores said “He had been through serious stuff, he had been there for me, and I knew I needed him there.”
Like Wallace, Cocores believed in himself enough to make the impossible, possible.
Wallace became Cocores’ coach and corner man in 2016 when they met at Jason Welsch’s summer beach wrestling event.
“He got beat up pretty good by some of my previous wrestlers but had amazing potential,” Wallace said. Wallace and Cocores both knew from the experience, in June 2016, they needed to work with one another.
“God was with us the whole way,” Cocores said. “Yes, I believe in God.”
There were many moments before and after the accident that Cocores said he felt God’s presence.
“Ten years before my accident a random guy rode by on a bike and told me that someone was watching over me,” Cocores said. The guy said, ‘I don’t know why I’m being urged to tell you this but does anyone in your life have a broken spine?’”
Cocores said no, made polite introductions, and learned he shared first names with this stranger. “The guy said, ‘well, it’ll be healed,’” Cocores said.
Cocores was given a 50% chance to walk normally again. After a 1-year checkup it was found that he had lost less than 1% mobility and the metal surgically placed needed to be removed before it caused damage.
“People in the medical community were calling it a miracle,” Cocores said.
Momentum is a documentary of the two local men captured by Small Pumpkin Productions and Lane Power Films. A collaborative effort between two South Lake Tahoe residents, Michele Aguilar and Lane Power, tells a 3 ½-year span of the intense recovery in the fight of Cocores’ life.
Lane, a 20-year resident of South Lake Tahoe with 17 years in filmmaking, is the director of photography and co-director.
Lane said, “I strive to use my work to help people understand each other and believe that empathy is one of the most powerful tools available to us.”
Aguilar is co-director and producer as well as a high school colleague of Wallace. Aguilar moved back to her hometown of South Lake Tahoe after making films in Washington D.C.
“I wanted to do a local story, saw the feature in the Tahoe Daily Tribune and knew I had to cover his recovery,” Aguilar said. “I knew if I didn’t cover his comeback fight, I would regret it.”
In 2020, Cocores had one final surgery and was cleared to fight once recovered, after being told that would be a medical impossibility.
At the end of the documentary, a blooper real captures a conversation between Wallace and Cocores. Wallace mentions the ending of the fight being like a Disney Movie.
“His comeback fight was a comeback fight, he was losing,” Aguilar said. Then he didn’t. After a painfully long fight Cocores turns it around in unbelievable fashion.
“On the phone with Lane at the end of the fight he said ‘Dude you staged that.'” Cocores said, “I would not put myself through that just for a good ending.”
While the film is not available on streaming services it will be available for a brief time for a virtual premier Saturday, Aug.6. The physical premier sold out quickly but there are unlimited spots for the virtual premier. After registering online at https://buytickets.at/smallpumpkinproductions/729124, a link will be emailed to allow 24 hours to watch the documentary.
“The film has a life after this premier, we will be taking it to the International premier in London September of 2022,” Aguilar said.
“Lane and I dedicated 3 ½-years to the passion project,” Aguilar said, “We both worked separate jobs to be able to support ourselves.”
Aguilar added “Momentum premier would not have been possible without the support of Tahoe Green Dispensary of South Lake Tahoe.”
“For the outreach campaign we are partnering with: at-risk youth organizations, alternative education programs, mental health and addiction organizations, trauma organizations, coaching and mentorship organizations and adaptive sports programs to host screenings and workshops,” Aguilar said.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.