Forward strides: Wallace off and running with new prosthesis from Amputee Blade Runners
Ryan Wallace took off down a hallway inside the offices of Amputee Blade Runners last month with a prosthetic right leg designed for running. After a decade-and-a-half unable to move much faster than a brisk walk, it was an incredible experience — until he had to stop.
“I started getting near the end and I realized I needed to stop and didn’t know how,” Wallace said. “Boom. I smashed right into a table and knocked a bunch of stuff down.”
Following a stretch of his life characterized by being slowed down, Wallace now has to remember to do so. And it’s a new reality that seemed unimaginable just two years ago while he got around on a prosthetic right leg and biological left foot that were both broken.
“I couldn’t be any more impressed with how lucky I am and how amazing the whole process turned out for me,” Wallace said. “It’s like seeing color for the first time.”
Wallace received a running leg in April from Amputee Blade Runners, a nonprofit in Tennessee that provides free athletics-focused prostheses to amputees around the nation. A day after testing out the new leg in a hallway, he took the modified version for a spin in Nashville’s Centennial Park — and ran pain-free for the first time in 15 years.
“It was completely exhilarating. I had a smile on my face and probably looked like a puppy chasing a stick,” Wallace said. “Once I realized that I was running and had a completely different challenge than I thought I would have at this point, all those thoughts going on at once was pretty exceptional.”
That initial jaunt April 10 was limited to 15-second bursts and concluded with a half-mile lap around a pond on the park grounds. Last August, the 32-year-old South Tahoe High alum and Vikings wrestling coach speculated about how it would feel to have wind blowing in his hair and an elevated heart rate associated with running — and it was ultimately better than he ever could have imagined.
“Getting the leg was an amazing feeling of freedom, like a ball and chain being unhinged,” said Wallace, who had his leg amputated at 19 due to bone cancer. “When they put the running blade on there and I could just bounce and take off, it was like an epiphany.”
Wallace received two legs from Amputee Blade Runners, highlighted by a multicolored, florescent prosthesis that enables him to run safely and confidently. His version that came from trying out six different legs features a blade connected to a leg by a polycentric hinge, a hydraulic piston and a thigh that can be adjusted using a Boa system common in snowboard boots.
“The blade feels like it’s alive. When I’m on it, it’s almost hard for me to go slow,” Wallace said. “It’s a remarkable feeling. I feel like it’s assisting me instead of me dragging it along. The fit holds on through the whole leg, there’s more control and it feels like a single part of my body.”
Wallace eventually had to leave the leg across the country so it could be built. When he received the finished product May 5 in South Lake Tahoe, rain couldn’t keep him from taking it out for the first time — on a run with his bulldog Rosie.
“It’s an amazing climb and when I try to analyze it, it’s amazing to me how quickly life can change,” Wallace said. “Every day I had a goal that led to this — the days may have been long, but the year to get there was pretty short.”
The process for Wallace to receive the new prosthesis began last summer, and involved participating in two running events while getting back into shape. It was initially made possible in early 2014 after the local community helped raise $25,000 for the purchase of a new C-leg that got the former college wrestler back on his feet — and his life back on track.
“In my life, all the things I thought were the bad things either lead to or end up being the good stuff,” Wallace said. “I’ve learned that the hard way.
“Breaking that other leg made me grow up and seek goals like this. What I thought was the end of me as I knew it in a bad way turned out to be the end of me, but in a good way because of the way I handled it and got after it.”
With his new prosthesis in tow, Wallace will compete in the 17th annual UCO Endeavor Games held June 9-12 at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma. He plans to participate in running, throwing and powerlifting events in the multi-sport competition for athletes with disabilities — and in the process realize a longtime goal.
“It’s pretty cool to look so positively at the future and have an expectation of being involved in something so awesome,” Wallace said. “Now I have the tool that will help me, and an extra reason to make it happen. It’s a totally new realm.”
Wallace plans for his return to competition to lead to his ultimate objective of participating in the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Japan. As he sees it, he is just now hitting his prime athletically.
“I like to challenge myself and get new challenges, and to have a huge amount of goals explode at once is overwhelming in a good way,” Wallace said. “I feel like I’m in someone else’s life all of a sudden.”
It’s indeed real life for Wallace. And he is running the show.