During his senior year of high school, Kenny Wallace finished 36th at the Ohio High School Athletics Association Division 3 State Meet, something that without the help of his former social studies teacher — Jeff Parent — wouldn’t have happened.
Wallace graduated from Matthews High School in Vienna, Ohio, where there was no cross-country team. So, he started his own.
“My favorite teacher named Parent, he said he’d be my quote-on-quote ‘coach,’” Wallace said. “He knew nothing about running, but he would sign the paper work, he’d drive me to the meets. I actually revived cross-country.”
During high school, Wallace was a one-man team, according to Parent. There hadn’t been a cross-country team at Matthews since 1989, according to the Mahoning County Tribune County. Parent said, although he knew nothing about running, he still wanted to help Wallace since he’s known him since he was 11 years old.
“I met him a couple places throughout the year and just kind of supervise him for some of his trainings but most of the time he just ran around town on his own,” Parent said. “I got him to the meets, signed him in and made sure he was registered. He kind of did everything on his own for those two years. I wouldn’t take responsibility for [Wallace’s] success at all.”
Wallace said one of his biggest adjustments to Loyola was his cross-country team. Not joining a new team, but even having a team at all. Although joining a team was a big change, running only cross-country was even bigger.
At Matthews, Wallace was a four-sport athlete — participating in soccer, cross-country, basketball and track — meaning he couldn’t focus on one sport at a time. Since soccer and cross-country were in the same season, he said he never got the chance to run a full season of cross-country in high school.
Since he spent a lot of time training for other sports in high school, Wallace said he wasn’t running long distances during high school. When he came to college, he said it was hard for him to adjust to “college running.”
“[It] kind of hurt me near the end of last year, I was starting to fade and burn out a little bit,” Wallace, 19, said. “I wasn’t crazy happy with my performance last year. This year, I have been stronger across the board and been handling all the volume of everything a little better.”
Wallace, an undecided major, said he ultimately wanted to play soccer in college, but had to change his plans when he tore his meniscus at the beginning of his senior year.
“I learned a lot from that experience,” Wallace said. “Since then, I have been more conscientious of taking care of my body. When I’m running, I try to wear shoes with a lot of cushion.”
Although he doesn’t play soccer anymore, he said it’s still the sport he loves the most. Assistant cross-country coach Mircea Bogdan said their love of soccer is something the two have bonded over.
“We actually like the same team, both of us are [FC] Barcelona fans,” Bogdan said. “We talk a lot about soccer. When I ran with him on Monday, we spent about 10 minutes talking about soccer, talking about different players, different teams.”
Now that Wallace has been with the team for two years, junior Derek Rink said he has noticed he has been more “comfortable” during the workouts. He even runs in the front of the pack, which means his speed is improving.
“[Wallace is] someone that really supports you during workouts,” Rink said. “He comes from a place where he didn’t really have a team. I guess Kevin [White] and I try to push him a lot. We’re trying to have him be more of a front-runner during races so we are going to get him to run with us more.”
Last year at the Bradley Pink Classic, Wallace finished with a time of 26:32. This year, he shaved off more than 15 seconds from his time finishing with a time of 26:15. Bogdan said Wallace and him agree he has improved a lot this year.
“Last year I think … he did too much over the summer too soon so his peak was a little off,” Bogdan said. “By the time we got to the end of the season, he barely had any gas left. I feel like this season start well. The difference between last year and this year I think he has got a little more gas in the tank. He even said it. Lets hope he lives up to that [expectation].”
Both the men’s and the women’s cross-country teams are scheduled to travel to Peoria — for the third time this season — Nov. 9 to compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional.