Rick Wallace, an L.A. Marathon participant since the race’s inception in 1984, began training for the 2021 version of the race in July—two months ahead of his usual initial start for the annual spring spectacle. 

Marathon organizers recently rescheduled the endurance event from early March to May 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic. That gives Wallace, a 63-year-old Realtor, extra time to prepare for the 26.2-mile event. 

“That’s more time to be in good shape,” he said. “I’ve been training well. I’m running faster and stronger than the last few years.” 

However, this holiday season, Wallace is appreciative for more than just added preparation time for the city-spanning contest. His Malibu Park home burned to the ground during the 2018 Woolsey Fire. Now, it is 90 percent rebuilt.

“I’m thankful that I’ve almost got my house back,” he said. “It’s basically cost me the last two years of my life to try to get it back—a huge amount of time, overcoming so many obstacles. I have been determined to get it back.”

Wallace, also a contributor to The Malibu Times, said reconstruction of the residence began in March.  

“In eight months, I have practically finished the house,” he said. “Within the next month or so, I will have my house back. When it burned down, I thought there was a less-than-10-percent chance I’d ever get it back. There were just too many things to fight through.”

The avid jaunter isn’t the only Malibu sports figure who noted there are things to be thankful for in the season of Thanksgiving. Local athletes and coaches said they were grateful for everything from family time to practice time this holiday season, especially since 2020 has been such a chaotic year. 

Pepperdine Waves women’s tennis player Jessica Fallia moved back into her family’s home in Ramona after the coronavirus epidemic ended the Waves’ spring season last March. The graduate student said being home for a span allowed her to spend more time with her family.

“I realized through everything that happened with the pandemic—I was always so focused on my goals—that it was really a nice time to step back and focus on relationships that are really important to me,” Fallia said. “I’ve been in college the past five years and played pro tennis the entire summers, so I haven’t lived at home more than a few weeks the last five years. It was amazing to spend time with both sets of my grandparents, my parents and my three younger siblings.” 

She did, however, have to adjust.

“There were hard times like having to do the dishes for everyone,” Fallia said with a laugh. “I got back into that role of being one of four kids again.” 

Tennis seemed to have a smoother restart than other sports during the worldwide health emergency. Fallia competed and racked up victories at tournaments in California, Florida, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota in the months after Pepperdine’s season was prematurely shuttered. She won the women’s singles division at the Oracle Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s National Summer Championship in August and recently made the semifinals at another high-level competition. 

Fallia took the court in professional and collegiate events while athletes in other collegiate sports had their seasons delayed or canceled. 

“I’m thankful there are so many tournaments that we are able to follow protocols of social distancing and go on,” she said. 

Malibu High boys’ and girls’ volleyball coach Derek Saenz is grateful for his health and that he can focus on what is important in life throughout coronavirus-caused shutdowns.

“It has been a good year to be introspective,” he said. 

Saenz’s teams have conducted outdoor, social-distanced workouts since September. The coach is thankful his players value the training sessions.

“We are getting more out of the kids when they show up,” Saenz said. “They appreciate it even more.” 

One of Saenz’s players, Lucia Granados, is thankful that Malibu’s coaches have organized the practices. 

“We could have been inactive,” she said. “We’ve been able to train at Zuma Beach, which is a nice break from distance learning at home.” 

Granados said volleyball gives her a sense of community and freedom.

“I’m thankful to be able to play with my teammates and friends,” she added. “The thrill of the game and competition is an escape from everyday life.” 

Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball coach David Hunt is prepping his team for their opening match on Jan. 8 against Vanguard. The fourth-year coach is grateful for all the work put in to make Waves’ season possible. 

“It’s obviously a huge effort,” Hunt said. “We deal with the athletic department, but it has been everyone on campus enabling our athletes to come back and to do it safely, to compete safely, to make sure they progress in their sport safely,” Hunt said. “It’s gone well. We are thankful for that.”

Hunt appreciates that his players and participants in other Pepperdine sports have followed the COVID-19 protocols the university officials have created. 

“The athletes have followed them and done well,” said Hunt, noting that his squad’s season was ended last spring because of the pandemic. “That experience made us thankful for each other, thankful for our sport, thankful for the ability to compete and thankful for the entire campus community for putting together something so we could compete again. There is nothing that we do that is guaranteed for us.”

Saenz said the Malibu practices are a stress relief. 

“I’m thankful we are doing something that helps the community,” Saenz said. “A team captain text[ed] me, ‘Thank you.’ The kids are finding new appreciation for smaller things. That starts in the home. I appreciate the families for keeping the kids grounded.”

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