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Power backup QB Wallace knows adversity

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, July 1, 2011

For the first eight months of her son's life, Reda Wallace lovingly took his feet in her hands, massaging them. Washing them. Talking to them. Praying.

Doctors told Reda that her son, Chris, who was born with the congenital deformity known as club feet. Doctors said he needed several surgeries to correct the problem, but he walked before they were necessary. Even then, they warned her, there was no guarantee he would walk.

Reda wouldn't listen.

"I said, 'He is going to walk,' " Reda said, pausing and sobbing repeatedly as she told the story 35 years later. "'Mommy is going to see to it. We are going to do this together.'"

Finally, after doctors twice broke bones in his feet to set them properly, Chris was walking across the room and into his mother's arms before his first birthday.

Today, it's impossible to know Chris Wallace was born with his feet turned in the opposite direction — heels toward the front, toes pointing behind him. Who would suspect it after his five touchdown passes this past weekend to lead the Power to a 39-38 arena victory against the Milwaukee Mustangs?

Wallace, 35, didn't know he was born with club feet until he was a sophomore at Springfield (Ohio) High School.

"I was going through some tough times in high school with my grades, not knowing if I wanted to play football or not," Wallace said. "I was talking to my parents about it, and they said I had already been through the worst adversity anybody could go through."

Wallace remembers his mother's words: "Hearing you scream when they broke your feet — you've been through it all. You just don't know it."

Reda Wallace knew something was wrong before her son was born.

"When she was carrying me, she never bought me socks," said Wallace, the youngest of four children. "All of the other babies kicked by a certain time, and I wasn't kicking. So she assumed I didn't have any feet at all. She told everybody, 'Don't buy him shoes or booties. He doesn't have any feet.'"

On the day Chris was born, doctors handed the child to Reda, expecting the worst.

"My feet were completely backward, facing in the other direction, and they were green because no oxygen could get to them," he said. "They thought my mom was going to freak out."

Actually, Reda was relieved.

"As long as he has two, I don't care," Reda said she told doctors. "I can get him to walk."

The next day, doctors broke the feet and set them in a cast, repeating the procedure four months later as per the treatment.

He wore orthopedic shoes, with a horizontal bar connecting them, and doctors told Reda to keep them on him at all times. But when they were home alone, she often took off the shoes to give him relief.

"He would scream and holler for two days because of the pain," Reda said. "It was like a child getting abused. He stopped laughing. He stopped smiling. I couldn't take it anymore. I took the braces off. I was breaking the rules ... but I had an instinct. I knew I was doing right."

When Chris started pulling himself up and trying to walk, Reda worked with him until one day he ran — ran — across the room.

"I called the doctor, and he said, 'Bring him over. It is totally impossible. I'll show you the X-rays.' He thought I was having a nervous breakdown.

"But I put him down on that floor and that baby ran across the floor and ran back to me. The doctor couldn't believe his eyes. He said he has never seen anything like it."

Years later, Reda never stood in her son's way when he wanted to play sports.

"I believe in God," she said. "And I knew if God brought that child to this point, whatever he wanted to do, I would let him do."

Wallace played basketball and baseball at Springfield South (Ohio) High School, but football was his game. He was the Ohio Division I co-Player of the Year in 1993 and accepted a scholarship to Toledo, becoming only the fourth black quarterback in school history. Coach Gary Pinkel, now at Missouri, said he recruited him without knowing about the club feet until reading the story in the newspaper.

After word got out, Wallace was featured on the reality TV show, "It's a Miracle," and the "Oprah Winfrey Show."

Wallace was a two-year starter at Toledo and threw for 5,454 yards and 44 touchdowns. A little slower than some quarterbacks and a bit pigeon-toed because of his trials as an infant, he wasn't drafted by the NFL. He was even rejected by the Steelers, his favorite team, after a tryout.

A year later, he started his 11-year indoor football career with the now-defunct Carolina Rhinos, a member of the AFL's minor division, AF2, and now is the backup to the Power's Bernard Morris. Morris is expected to return from ankle and shoulder injuries tonight against the Orlando Predators.

Power coach Chris Siegfried once traded Wallace while in AF2. Wallace was angry but quickly got over it.

"Vince Lombardi said, 'I'll take you until I can find somebody better,' " Wallace said. "That happened, and we shook hands."

While he was playing in Fort Myers, Fla., Wallace started a football program at Florida Christian Institute, a school for students with learning difficulties. He left that job two years ago to return to Springfield to help his mother care for his father, James, who has Alzheimer's.

"I heard her cry one too many times," said Wallace, who also has organized a Walk-A-Thon for Oct. 1 in Springfield to raise money to fund Alzheimer's research.

He returned to the AFL this season and played briefly for the New Orleans VooDoo. The Power signed him two weeks ago to relieve a manpower shortage at quarterback.

Wallace laughs easily these days, even in the face of repeated challenges and adversity.

"This is a cake walk," he said of his indoor football career. "I wasn't supposed to walk at all."

Additional Information:

Power gameday

Power vs. Predators

When/where: 8 p.m., Friday/Amway Center, Orlando, Fla.

TV/radio: NFL Network/KDKA-FM (93.7)

Notable: With four games left in the regular season, playoff implications abound for both teams, with the Power (8-6) tied for first place in the American Conference East with the Cleveland Gladiators. ... Orlando (8-6) also is battling the Power, Gladiators and Georgia Force (9-6) for two wild-card berths. ... Predators quarterback Nick Hill leads the league in total offense (4,470 yards: 4,117 passing, 353 rushing) and is second in average passing yards per game (294.1). He has 91 touchdowns, including 82 through the air.

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