Shohei Ohtani is considered a once-in-a-lifetime player because of what he can do on a baseball diamond. He is an elite hitter and a top pitcher, doing things in both roles that haven’t been seen in decades.
Then there are former players such as Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders who made it to the top of two sports, football and baseball, with varying levels of success. Jackson made the NFL’s Pro Bowl and MLB’s All-Star Game, while Sanders once played in an NFL and MLB game in the same day.
While those athletes are rare, there is more of a push for playing more than one sport at a young age. Not only does it give a better life balance than when an athlete is focused solely on one sport, but it also develops skills that can be beneficial in the other.
Jack Wallace (Franklin lakes, N.J.) is just one example of that. The 24-year-old New Jersey native is a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in sled hockey. Before trying to win another gold medal in 2026, he hopes to do it at the 2024 Paris Paralympics in canoe. Wallace took up the sport about four years ago and is one of the best in the world.
“It's definitely changed my fitness level on the ice,” Wallace said, adding his cardio and speed have improved. “Actually, that was the initial idea behind it, was just to get cross-training in, lower risk of burnout, especially in the summers and when it's nice weather — instead of spending all day inside the rink or inside the gym, go and do something outside and get that really quality exercise in.”
Wallace said canoeing turned into more than a hobby when he was told he could possibly compete in the Summer Paralympics.
Being a multi-sport athlete is nothing new to Wallace. As a kid, he was a six-sport athlete: hockey, football, baseball, lacrosse, soccer and wrestling. Hockey has been Wallace’s first love and was very important in his recovery from a 2008 boating crash in which he lost part of his right leg. Wallace had hoped to make the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in canoe, but he needed Tommy John elbow surgery in the summer of 2020, derailing those plans.
From a USA Hockey perspective, there are only positives in participating in both sports.
“I think it's kind of two-fold,” said Dan Brennan, director of sled national teams for USA Hockey. “In a sport like sled hockey, it's very upper body driven. Then I watch a video of Jack — I always ask him, 'Show me what you've been doing. I want to see it' — it's amazing how that kind of sport, Paracanoe, matches up perfectly with sled hockey.
“He's a big, strong kid. It's like a stand-up hockey player playing golf, it's just kind of a natural thing to do. I love the fact that he's got passion for other things, for that whole season, he's dialed in.”
Wallace is coming off the American Canoe Association Paracanoe team trials April 13-15 at Lake Natoma, just east of Sacramento, California, where he set a personal best. He is already qualified for the world championships in August, which come after more big hockey events.
Bouncing between the two sports can be difficult at times.
“Hockey's a very physical game, so you get a couple of bumps and bruises or stuff like that takes some time to heal,” Wallace said. “Whereas in canoe, it's really just all about fitness and perfection and how quick you can be and how perfect your technique can be.”
Wallace said getting back to training for canoe can be difficult after playing hockey for a long stint because he wants to start training right away, but he needs to recover for a few days after a long trip of playing a physical sport.
Brennan said he relies on Wallace knowing what he needs to do to transition from one sport to the other.
“I think it just takes good judgment,” Brennan said. “They know their bodies better than anybody and they just have to make sure that they train properly, [and] they don't overdo it.”
As Wallace pursues his multi-sport dream of adding the Summer Games to his Paralympic resume, it takes him back to his childhood and the six sports he played.
“I pretty much played sports year-round and that helped develop a lot of different hand-eye coordination skills,” Wallace said. “There are plenty of plenty of benefits. I'm pretty sure I've even seen [Wayne] Gretzky say the same thing about how kids should be playing different sports in the summer and get out of the year-round sports cycle [of focusing on one discipline].”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.