Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on Todd Wallace’s story.
BOONVILLE — “He’s like a son,” former Starmount football coach B.W. Holt said. “He and my son (Stu) are as close to being brothers as anyone.”
In fact, Stu has a daughter named AnnWallace Whitley Holt.
Holt coached at Starmount 19 years. He is now coaching at a private school in Rocky Mount.
“Todd was a hard worker,” Holt said. “He was a tremendous baseball player; a tremendous linebacker.
“He had a passion for the game. He still does.
“We’re just so proud to see what he’s done.”
Holt said one has to understand the Starmount community to understand the impact of Todd’s accident. “That was a great place to raise a family and still is,” he said. “Everybody knew Todd Wallace. A lot of prayers were said.”
Holt had to help his football team deal with Todd’s absence shortly after the accident. “I told them to go out and play as hard as Todd played,” he said. “It was tough. It still is.”
“The first game of my senior year we played North Iredell at home,” Todd said. “My family brought me to the game.
“That was a very tough moment. You did realize then that your ball-playing days were over.”
Todd watched the game from the back of Holt’s pickup in the end zone near the weight room. “I was still in a body cast,’ Todd said. “In a wheelchair elevated where I could see the field.
“When I went back to the hospital, that was really, really tough.”
As a freshman in baseball, he was his team’s most valuable player. His sophomore year, he was a conference honorable mention as a catcher; and then All-Conference as a catcher his junior year.
Basketball, Wallace said, was something he played to stay in shape. As a junior, he was “second or third” off the bench, he said.
“He was a little bit better than me in most sports,” said David Oliver, a cousin who lived next door to Todd. “B.W. Holt was a big influence on him.
“He was undersized for every sport. He was 5-9, 150, and he was a middle linebacker. That will tell you something.”
Oliver, currently the wrestling and track and field coach at Starmount, said he was supposed to be with Todd the night he was coming back from Mocksville. “I really believe he would have played college baseball,” Oliver said.
“It’s not always been happy times,” Todd said. “After high school, I got alcohol and drug dependent. I hit some dark times.
“I used my accident as an excuse to dabble in drugs and alcohol. I went through that for several years.
“God never gave up on me. I knew something was happening. I didn’t know what. Something was stirring in my heart.”
Finally, Todd said, “I just cried out to God and my life changed. I became a Christian.”
Todd said others have to handle their situations in ways that work for them. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, he said.
“Every person goes through a different trial in life,” he said. “I can’t sit there and tell you how to feel. What I have told people is I can be here as support for you.
“My main thing - you got to reach down in yourself and decide how you are going to be. Do you want to sit there and let the world move on without you?
“I still get knocked down. But you got to get up and play the next play. Life is full of ups and downs. You have to decide if you’re going to take it.”
Todd now lives in Mocksville. He is a repair and services supervisor at Yadkin Valley Telecom in Mocksville, where he has been almost 20 years.
He has been married to a woman he dated in high school for more than four years.
“I was dating Dottie when I had my accident,” he said. “She was with me during my stay in the hospital.
“As life will have it, we went our separate ways,” Todd said. “We weren’t but 17-years-old. At the time, I don’t know where my life’s going. I’m in a wheelchair.”
“She was there everyday at Baptist,” his brother Jeff said. “I do remember her coming and her demeanor. She wasn’t overemotional about it.
“The fact that she was there was therapeutic for him.”
Jeff said Todd told Dottie after the crash “his life was totally different now. They both showed a lot of maturity there.”
“We got reacquainted in 2005,” Todd said. “We started dating again. She was a sweetheart.”
Todd and Dottie were married January 3, 2010.
“I had not talked to her in 15, 16, 17 years,” Todd said. “When we got reacquainted, I saw the qualities that attracted me when we were 17; her kind, caring heart.”
“They just reconnected,” Jeff said. “It’s all just come full circle.”
“I’m married and I have two great stepdaughters,” Todd said. “I’ve had a job for 27 years. This chair does not define who I am or what I am.
“Jesus Christ is a big part of my life. I give him all the credit in anything I do. I don’t take any credit.”
Todd said his life revolves around his family; going to ballgames (“We follow Kenzie everywhere”); and Peace Haven Baptist Church in Yadkinville.
He describes himself as a sports fanatic. He doesn’t just follow Kenzie, but his nephew, Caleb, as well. He even goes to games Kenzie and Caleb are not involved in. “You just never know where you might find me,” he said. “I don’t have to have anybody playing. Me and some of my fellow coaches will just load up and go.
“I get to watch that ball thrown around, hit around, and shot around.
“My wife is very supportive of it.”
This summer there is agility and conditioning for football two nights a week; a stepdaughter who plays showcase softball; and a nephew who plays American Legion baseball.
“My life’s great,” Todd said. “I’ve got such a loving family. A wonderful mom and stepdad. My real dad’s back in my life. My brother and his family. We’re all close.”
Jeff is now an assistant superintendent for Davie County schools. Jeff’s own story includes his daughter Claire’s battle with Wilms’ tumor — a cancer of the kidneys — and his own battle with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
“We live close to each other now,” Jeff said. “It’s just amazing how things have worked out.
“It was ugly. It was tough at times. We knew that he was doing things we didn’t like. I tried to talk to him.”
As recently as 10 years, Jeff said he was reluctant to bring his children to Todd’s house.
“A defining moment,” Jeff recalled, “was the day I was diagnosed with leukemia.” Jeff said he told Todd that if having leukemia was what it took for Todd to turn his life around, he was willing to accept that.
“From that moment on,” Jeff said, “he began to come around us more. He did stop all those things.
“I didn’t beat him over the head. God got a hold of his heart.”
“I thought I was hiding it from him,” Todd said. “But he knew all about what I was doing. It was tough.
“I never want to go back there, but I’m better for having gone through it.”
“We were replacing his idle time with something productive,” Jeff said. “And Dottie came back into his life.
“He’s giving back to my children; his stepdaughters.
“Yeah, there’s a tragedy. But he’s now a good uncle; a good stepdad.
“We’ve been very fortunate and very blessed.”
Their father, Jerry, has also changed. “He had the willpower,” Jeff said. “We were able to watch his transformation.”
Transformations come in different forms. Both his father’s and his own transformation have been profound.
“I have seen so many people I would not have met being in this chair,” Todd said. “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
“Look at Todd,” Holt said. “He’s got a great job; a great wife.
“The Starmount community is a great part of that. It’s a unique situation.”
Todd drives down U.S. 21 regularly - past the houses and the utility poles; past the spot where his life changed. He said he doesn’t think about it anymore.
“I used to when I was younger,” he said. “Man, why couldn’t I make it that last mile-and-a-half?
“You can ‘what if’ the rest of your life. I don’t see the point.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or Twitter @elkinareasports.