A Lake George water-skiing accident dashed Jack Wallace’s National Hockey League dreams when he was only 10.
Already an avid hockey player, the Ridgewood native spent three days in a coma and two months in the hospital after his right leg had to be amputated below the knee. Wallace had hoped to play again, but it wasn’t until the following summer that he found sled hockey, a form of the sport that helps people with disabilities stay on the ice. It’s nearly the same game, but players use two sticks and sit on a bucket-seat sled with skating blades underneath.
Now 23, Wallace, an alumnus of the College of New Jersey, is a member of the United States National Sled Team. He won gold at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and he’s looking to do the same at the 2022 Games in Beijing, which run March 4–13.
When did you first fall in love with hockey?
I started playing when I was between 3 and 5, just in the driveway with my brother. As I got a little bit older, I started playing roller hockey and ice hockey.
As a lifelong Devils fan from New Jersey, who is your all-time favorite player?
Marty Brodeur…. He had such unique style. He was so talented.
How did you discover sled hockey?
The [summer after the accident], I attended Camp No Limits [in Maine]. It’s a camp for kids and families dealing with limb loss and limb difference. They kind of taught me that I’m not the only one with a prosthetic; I’m not the only amputee in the world. One of the volunteers asked me, ‘What are your favorite sports?’ I said, ‘hockey,’ and he said, ‘Oh, did you ever hear of sled hockey?’ My parents found a local program in Woodbridge.
You met 2010 Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist and fellow New Jerseyan Josh Pauls when you were 11. What impact did that have?
He kind of showed me, Hey, this is what’s possible in this sport. This is the pinnacle of the sport. As a kid, you dream of going to the NHL. Playing with the Devils was my dream, but there are no sled hockey players in the NHL. That opened my eyes, and that basically became my goal after that, to do what he did.
As you prepare for the 2022 Winter Games, how excited are you for Beijing?
I am over the moon. All the guys have been training super hard, and we’re ready to get over there and compete.
You won a gold medal in 2018. Besides taking home the top prize, what are your goals for these Paralympics?
I want to soak it in more. My first time around was super fast. It was all hectic. It was kind of a blur to me. This time around, I’m definitely gonna appreciate it a little more.
What do you hope people learn about sled hockey if they see you and your teammates playing in Beijing?
Just getting the awareness out there, showing people it’s a fast, physical, really intense game. It’s played a little bit differently, but other than that, it is hockey. We are all hockey players, and we’re trying to do the same things that NHL players are doing.
There’s obviously a stereotype around the Paralympics… and people kind of don’t give it the respect that it deserves. It’s designed to allow athletes to compete on the same level. It’s unfair when people try to devalue that.
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