From dark to light: New prosthetic leg, community support has Wallace standing tall |

From dark to light: New prosthetic leg, community support has Wallace standing tall

Anthony Gentile
Ryan Wallace crosses the finish line at South Tahoe Middle School after completing the Tahoe Legends Run in June. It was the first of two 5k events the local wrestling coach is competing in to receive a running leg from Amputee Blade Runners, a nonprofit that provides running prostheses to amputees.
Courtesy Photo |

A little more than a year has passed since Ryan Wallace received a new prosthetic leg with the help of the local community. And during that time, the local wrestling coach has taken big steps forward.

“Physically, spiritually and with everything I’m doing great — I was reborn,” Wallace said. “It’s a whole new outlook.”

Community members rallied around Wallace in early 2014, and ultimately raised the $25,000 necessary for a new C-leg. The 31-year-old has spent the past year repaying their generosity with his actions — including a daily exercise routine that features weightlifting and swimming.

“When I first got it, I wasn’t sure if I was worth it — it was expensive and took a lot of effort,” Wallace said. “I’m motivated to prove it was worth it — if they felt it was important for me to have a leg, I want to show them that it’s important and awesome.”

“They felt it was important for me to have a leg, and I want to show them that it’s important and awesome.”Ryan Wallace

Wallace received his new right leg 15 months ago, and once it was paired with a new socket he had what he calls the “perfect setup.” After walking on a broken prosthetic without the computer function for a couple years, he has lost 35 pounds with the new leg.

“It’s computerized and it literally feels like it’s attached to my brain — I can do anything,” Wallace said. “I can walk and don’t have to think about the step I’m taking — it just happens.”

With a solid set of legs — one biological and one prosthetic — now underneath him, Wallace is eying his next move. And thanks to a Tennessee-based nonprofit that helps provide free running prosthetics for amputees, his focus is now on distance running.

Amputee Blade Runners reached out to Wallace during the fundraiser for his C-leg last year and accepted his application — the organization’s goal is to provide a running prosthesis to one athlete in all 50 states by 2016. The only requirement for Wallace to receive the leg is that he participate in two 5k events.

“I’m treating it like my job to get that leg. I’ll be able to run, get back in shape,” Wallace said. “I never have competed in long-distance running, but I am motivated to break personal records.”

Wallace’s first 5k was the Tahoe Legends Run in June, a race that benefited the youth sports complex at South Tahoe Middle School. He walked the course in 1:15:42, moving closer to a running prosthesis while completing a once-unthinkable task.

“A year ago, I didn’t think I would even be able to walk down the block,” Wallace said. “So just to be able to do it — it was easy because I was just thankful and happy to do it.

“It wasn’t hard because I was having fun, walking and talking the whole time. Then when I crossed the line, everybody cheered for me like I was in first place.”

Wallace plans to fulfill his requirement on Aug. 15 by participating in the Color Blast 5k in Gardnerville, Nev. — before picking a second event, he wanted to lose a few more pounds to ease the stress on his body. After completing the race, he will head to Tennessee to be fitted for a running leg — then run for the first time in more than a decade.

“Hopefully it’s like riding a bike — I’ve done a lot of hopping on one foot and some StairMaster stuff, but I think I’m going to be a lot slower than I was in high school,” he said. “But it’s probably going to feel good having the wind blowing in my face and get that pain in my chest.”

As bright as things are for Wallace today, it was the opposite just more than a year ago. With a broken prosthesis and an injured left foot, he was feeling dark — and it was a video made as part of the fundraiser that turned his mindset around.

“The kids talked about the reasons why they think I deserve the leg, why they wanted me back and why it was a bummer not to have me around,” Wallace said. “Basically I had my eulogy read to me without being gone.

“That motivated me to be a better person in general, figure out what it was that I was doing that was impacting people positively — and to enhance that part, get rid of whatever my faults were and get after it.”

Wallace’s C-leg is emblazoned with the names of community members that played a large part in making it a reality, and those names serve as a daily motivator. Support from the South Shore — including the South Tahoe High wrestling program — has fueled an arduous road to recovery.

“Just knowing that many people care about you — it’s awesome,” Wallace said. “I’m thankful for that, and I want to make the most of it.”

For Wallace, his goal is to return as full-time head coach of the South Tahoe wrestling program. He’ll assist head coach Sean Griffis during the 2015-16 season, and plans to help the Vikings’ wrestlers in whatever way possible.

“I’m very excited to be back with that and share what I learned from being at the bottom and digging out,” Wallace said. “I would give whatever I could for one of them to have a better life — they obviously did the same thing for me.

“Now that everything is light, I’m not going to go backwards — I’m going to go forward.”

And on a new leg with a new outlook, he’s doing exactly that — one step at a time.

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