GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Dragged to the ground after trying to evade arrest on a street in Florida, swimmer Dan Wallace was in handcuffs and fearing his dream of reaching the pinnacle of his sport had just ended.
Suspended by the University of Florida swimming team, Wallace’s place in Scotland’s squad was in jeopardy with the Commonwealth Games approaching.
Redemption, though, has come quickly — in Scotland at least.
Barely two months after being detained for urinating on a police car early one morning in Gainesville, the 21-year-old Wallace captured his first international title on Friday.
“For freedom,” Wallace screamed, raising his arms triumphantly after winning the 400 meter individual medley title.
Rather than recalling his own moment of adversity, Wallace was invoking the spirit of Scottish warrior William “Braveheart” Wallace.
Personal battles had to be fought to reach the top of the Glasgow podium.
“I got to the point in my life where I really had to re-evaluate the path I wanted to take and I think chose the right one,” Wallace said. “I was kind of living the life of a rock star but still trying to perform in the pool and you can’t do both.”
It was at 1:53 a.m. on May 4 when cuffs were placed around the hands that touched the pool wall in triumph on Friday. Wallace had been spotted urinating on a Gainesville Police Department vehicle.
The officer recalled Wallace “started running” when approached, with the police report adding: “I told the DEF (defendant) to stop, but the DEF refused to stop. The DEF was taken to the ground and continued to thrash his body on the ground refusing to be handcuffed. The DEF was eventually placed in handcuffs.”
This was not what Wallace’s parents envisaged when they sold their house to fund his move to the U.S. university in 2012. The anthropology student remains suspended indefinitely from the university swim squad, team spokesman Will Pantages told The Associated Press.
But Scottish swimming coaches were more forgiving, allowing him to compete in the Commonwealth Games, which features former British colonies.
“It was a wake-up call,” Wallace said. “I think I responded to that and turned my life around.”
Wallace seized his second chance in life, inspired by the Oscar-winning epic “Braveheart,” starring Mel Gibson as Wallace, who led the Scots in their battle to free themselves from English rule in the 13th century.
“I watched it (again) last week to get ready for this over on the plane,” said Wallace, who is yet to trace his roots to the warrior. “It’s such a Scottish thing and it warms my heart.”
It was on his mind just after finishing ahead of Thomas Fraser-Holmes of Australia and University of Florida teammate, Sebastien Rousseau of South Africa, with a winning time of 4 minutes, 11.20 seconds in Glasgow.
“I yelled at the top of my lungs, ‘For freedom’ because being here, the whole crowd has really brought out the Braveheart and Scot inside me,” Wallace said. “I thought I’d soak up the moment.”
Off the booze, Wallace promised no excesses on Friday night to celebrate gold.
“It’s all about moderation, I think I have learnt from those experiences and it’s starting to pay off now …. I’m going to celebrate with a cup of tea,” he said.
One of the first to offer congratulations was Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.
“She said she is really proud of me,” Wallace said. “And I think the whole of Scotland is now.”
But in Florida, Wallace still has no place in Olympic swim coach Gregg Troy’s university team despite the Scot indicating the suspension had been lifted while speaking to reporters in Glasgow.
“My performance tonight has really overshadowed everything that has happened,” Wallace said. “Hopefully this is what I am going to be remembered by and not past mistakes.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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