New Event, Same Result For Jarryd Wallace
by Al Daniel
Two years ago, at his third Paralympic Games, Jarryd Wallace finally broke through to claim his first medal on that grand stage.
His third-place finish in the men’s 200-meter T44 prompted Wallace to fall to his knees in excitement.
At last month’s 2023 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris, it was a different setting, a different event and a different objective. Despite all those changes, the result remained the same as in Tokyo.
“I think I was having more fun than anybody else out there,” Wallace, 33, said a few weeks after taking third in the men’s long jump T64.
Topping that unofficial leaderboard of enjoyment also proved meaningful for the Athens, Georgia, native. A year after his Tokyo triumph, Wallace’s sense of purpose in his sport started fizzling, and he told himself, “Either step away from the sport or find a way to reignite myself.”
Wallace, who had won four previous medals at the world championships, including a trio of golds, grants he was not set to abandon sprinting altogether. He still craved a Paralympic medal in the 100. But he needed to throw out the stale 200 and 400 and pursue a discipline he had never attempted.
The long jump qualified.
“Totally new,” he said. “Unless you count being at the beach with your dad when you’re 10, jumping in the sand,” he added with a chuckle.
So Wallace approached coach Dan Pfaff about pursuing the 100-meter T44 and the long jump T64 this quad. A few months into their alliance, though, Wallace told Pfaff to freely speak up if he thought it was best to ditch either one of those events.
“I kind of just surrendered the last layer of my expectations over to him, which I think was a very freeing thing for me to do,” Wallace said.
So, when the long jump demanded a sole focus, Pfaff said so, and a 48-hour pause for prayer and discussion with family and mentors cemented Wallace’s new regimen.
The 100 did not exit his wheelhouse in vain, as the short sprint bore carryover principles to the long jump.
In the long jump, where Wallace covers 40 meters before taking his leap, preparation is crucial. With a decade of experience sprinting distances farther than that, the novice believes he is bringing more stamina to his long jumps than the event’s veterans.
“It allows me to be able to take six jumps really comfortably, not really get fatigued,” he said. “My last jump has always been my best jump.”
That showed in Paris. After five tries, he trailed countryman and reigning Paralympic bronze medalist Trenten Merrill for a spot on the podium by one centimeter. He improved his standing by 0.02 meters to the tune of 7.34, eking past Merrill to join fellow American long jump newcomer Derek Loccident and Germany’s Markus Rehm on the medal stand.
With a world-record 8.49-meter jump — more than a meter farther than the field — Rehm won his sixth straight world title, a streak that started in 2011 (four of those golds came in the T44 class, as Rehm switched to T64 in 2019). When everyone reconvenes in Paris next year for the Paralympics, he will seek his fourth straight gold at that event.
But Wallace is not making yardsticks of his peers from home or abroad.
“If you’re worried about the other competitors,” he said, “you’ve already talked yourself out of the event.”
Based on Wallace’s conversations with the German rival, Rehm encourages bids to break up his incredible 12-year reign. If anything, he embraces the prospect of other athletes reaching his distances to draw more attention to his division.
“Markus’ dream is if we can have four, five, six guys jumping 8 meters,” Wallace said.
That’s only inspired Wallace to keep improving, and he’s hoping he can inspire the younger generation to do the same. In an Aug. 8 Instagram video, Wallace interspliced one of his training hustles and vaults on the University of Georgia track with one of his son’s.
“So much fun in the sand with my little shadow!” the elder Wallace concluded in the caption.
“We’ve got almost a 4-year-old who wants to emulate his dad in every way, shape or form,” he told usparatf.org later that day. “I want him to see me carry myself both in success and in failure. Doing a new event with new challenges creates a lot of opportunities for success and failure.”
Al Daniel is a freelance features writer and contributor to usparatf.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @WriterAlDaniel.