By Julia Marnin
Ever since he was three years old, nothing has stopped Jack Wallace from pursuing his passion for playing sled hockey. Not even an extreme boating accident could shatter his dreams of playing again.
Now a sophomore biomedical engineering major at the College, Wallace says he’s one of the youngest professional players on the U.S. Men’s National Sled Hockey Team.
Wallace and his teammates have their sights set on victory as they prepare to compete in the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“Jack Wallace is one of the young guns on our squad,” said Dan Brennan, the U.S. National Sled Hockey team’s general manager. “He is a big strong player with a great deal of offensive skill as well. He has a bright future and we’re excited to have him on the team.”
Wallace didn’t originally start out playing sled hockey, though.
Up until he was 10 years old, he invested his time into playing ice hockey. But things drastically changed one summer when Wallace became severely injured during a family vacation.
While water skiing on Lake George, New York, his sister fell off the ski. After she fell off, Wallace had let go of his line. While left floating in the water, Wallace’s dad pulled the boat between them to untangle their lines. In the middle of untangling the two, the boat’s throttle was unintentionally pushed, causing it to spin around 180 degrees and run over Wallace.
“It hit me on my right side and broke my femur,” Wallace recalled. “I spun, and then the propeller caught my right leg and completely shredded it.”
In and out of consciousness and going into shock, Wallace was raced back to shore where an ambulance picked him up.
Eventually he was airlifted to a nearby hospital where his leg was immediately amputated. Due to the accident, Wallace was in a coma for three days and spent two months in the hospital.
There are two scars on his left foot that remind Wallace of the accident.
“I was very lucky,” he said.
Then, everything changed when he turned 11 years old. After receiving his first prosthetic leg, Wallace tried to go back to the sport he loved: ice hockey.
Unable to play because of his prosthetic leg, Wallace decided try sled hockey and has been playing ever since.
“There’s a classification for playing sled hockey and it’s basically having a really difficult time playing stand up hockey,” Wallace said. “There’s a wide range of disabilities in sled hockey.”
In the sport, players sit on sleds that have two blades underneath them. They move around by propelling themselves forward, holding onto the two sticks that have ice picks on them.
Wallace realized he wanted to play professionally when he witnessed ice sled hockey player Josh Pauls help the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team take the gold at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics.
“When I saw that, I said, ‘that’s the pinnacle of the sport right there,’” Wallace said.
Pauls, who is now one of the team’s captains, had nothing but positive things to say about Wallace as a person and player.
“He’s a lot of fun to play with considering how he can play both a physical and skill game,” Pauls said.
Before making the national team, Wallace played on the U.S. developmental team for three seasons.
“It’s basically like the B-squad. The players that want to develop to become national team players,” Wallace said.
Now on the national team, Wallace has a full schedule with little room for down time.
This past April he went to Gangneung, South Korea to play in the 2017 Para Sled Hockey World Championship. The championship served as a test event for the rinks that will be used in the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics.
“He really flourished and grew going into the world championships last year where he was an impact player,” Pauls said.
At the end of each month, Wallace flies out to the national team’s training camp.
“We inspire each other and we make each other work hard,” Wallace said. “What makes the team great is our chemistry together.”
When he isn’t traveling, Wallace is busy with training and exercising.
“I put in 20 to 30 hours a week training, watching films, skating and working out,” he said.
Helene Lewis, a sophomore nursing major and one of Wallace’s close friends said, “I’ve always heard Jack talk about sled hockey, but after watching him play, it’s clear how dedicated he is to the sport.”
On top of consistently training, Wallace tries to balance his school work.
Next semester, Wallace will take a break from school and move to Chicago with his team in preparation for the Paralympic games.
Wallace has a two-week-long tournament in Italy, followed by another one in Buffalo, New York and then the Paralympics in South Korea to finish off the team’s hectic schedule.
Once things settle down, Wallace plans to revisit his studies over the summer and hopes to be back on track to graduate by his junior year.
After the Paralympics and completing his degree, Wallace sees a long career ahead of him as a professional athlete.
“I’m going to play sled hockey until my shoulders fall off,” he said. “That’s the plan at this point.”