Feb. 28, 2013
For immediate release

Former Sac State star struggled with injury, loss during Trials

In a perfect world, Lea Wallace would have raced in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials full of confidence and hope during the biggest week of her running life.

But her Trials experience proved far more challenging.

The former Sacramento State star suffered a retinal hemorrhage the week before heading to Eugene, leaving her with only partial vision in her right eye. And as she prepared for the first round of the women’s 800 meters, she pondered going home to Napa to be with her ailing father.

Wallace’s parents told her to stay and run. A few hours after Dad watched her on television advance to the semifinals with a 2:02:94 effort, Wallace received word he had passed away from congestive heart failure and renal failure.

She went out the next day and ran 2:04:14 in the semifinals and did not advance.

“It was very difficult,” she said of her June ordeal. “I’ve never been through anything as difficult as what the Olympic Trials were for me.

“It was like my world was crumbling around me and I was just trying to find a way to stay afloat.”

Wallace, 24, said her eye problem began when she was doing pushups and squats the week before the Trials.

“My eye went black,” she said. “It wasn’t painful or anything, but definitely scary … I freaked out.

“Even now I don’t have full vision in my eye.”

What Wallace does have is a renewed sense of confidence and hope for her running career. After training in Texas with a Nike group coached by John Cook that included Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, she’s back in northern California and running for the Sacramento Running Association’s Elite Team.

Wallace lives in Berkeley and trains with Olympian Shannon Rowbury and others under Cook’s supervision. She works part-time for a running store in Napa and splits time between the East Bay, Napa and Sacramento.

“I’m really excited about running for SRA and watching the running community there grow,” she said. “There is a lot of talent in the Sacramento area. I’m excited to be a part of the running group.”

SRA executive director John Mansoor welcomed Wallace back to the Elite Team.

“We’re happy she’s back,” he said. “She’s on the same level as Kim (Conley). She’s gaining confidence in every race.

“I think Lea’s got tremendous potential to be one of America’s top people to make the (Olympic) team.”

Wallace considers her year in Austin a valuable learning experience.

“It was really hard for me to be far away from home,” she said. “But I gained a lot of experience just watching people training at a very high level, a level I’d never seen before.

“That was invaluable.”

Wallace, who owns a personal best of 2:01:33, qualified for this weekend’s USA Indoor Track & Field Championships with a 2:04:94 effort at the University of Washington last month. SRA teammate Dominque Jackson (2:06:00) has also qualified for the national meet.

“I just had my fastest opener ever,” Wallace said. “That was exciting. I’m really strong, really fast, sort of happy and confident.”

Wallace said she’s chasing a spot in this year’s World Championships. Down the road, making a run at the 2016 Olympics highlights her agenda.

“I really want to be on an international team,” she said. “I think that’s realistic.

“You always have the Olympics in the back of your mind. That is the ultimate goal.”

The Sacramento Running Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.

SRA events include the recently concluded Super Bowl Sunday 10k Run, the Credit Union SACTOWN Ten-Mile Run on April 7, the Gold Rush 100k on May 11, the former Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon, which will be re-named and be part of a festival honoring Johnny Cash on Oct. 19, and the California International Marathon on Dec. 8.

SRA beneficiaries include the American River Parkway, youth fitness programs, local running venues and aspiring young runners.