Wouldn’t it be cool if a fellow Duke represented JMU in the 2012 London games? Well, that is exactly what happened this past month when sophomore Adam Ballou attended the games with the 2012 USA Men’s Paralympic soccer team! For those of you who are not familiar with the Paralympics, it is basically the same as the Olympics, but for athletes with disabilities. For 7-a-side soccer, the sport Adam calls his own, players most commonly suffer from cerebral palsy, which causes some limitations when playing.
Adam was first diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was six months old and underwent physical and occupational therapy from infancy until about 13 years of age. However, it has never kept him from playing the game he loves and ultimately achieving the dream of reaching the 2012 London games.
The Ballou family has always shared a love for soccer; “I started playing soccer when I was three. I was on the same team as my older sister and our dad was the coach… It was crazy to have them watch me play for the USA for the first time in London… especially thinking back to when I was that little!” Adam shared. He has been with the U.S. Paralympic team since he was 14, but he was unable to compete with the team internationally until he turned 16.
“Being a member of the team and being able to represent the United States has been seriously amazing,” he says. Throughout this past year, he has been on quite a journey; he had to take the spring 2012 semester off in order to practice with the team and traveled from training camps in Virginia Beach, VA and San Diego, CA, to a tournament in Ukraine and a week later, another in Manchester. “I missed JMU so much while I was gone – I can’t even describe it,” Adam admitted. Though he was honored to be able to represent the Dukes on an international platform!
HC JMU: How did you become involved with the U.S. Men’s Paralympic soccer team?
Adam: One day, the head coach of the Virginia Beach Mariners was talking with my soccer coach at the time, and asked him if he knew any guys with cerebral palsy that could possibly play for the U.S. Men’s Paralympic team. My coach told him, “Yeah… actually I do!” In February 2007, I went to L.A. for tryouts and training camp, which was my first experience with the team. One of my first times playing internationally with the team would have been at the 2008 Beijing games, but we missed the cut. From that point, we trained as much and as hard as we could so that we could make it to the games in London this past summer.
HC JMU: How was the London Paralympic experience?
Adam: Absolutely unbelievable! Everything was pretty much exactly the same as it was for the Olympic games. We stayed in the village where those athletes did, ate at the same dining hall (which is about two and a half times the size of Bridgeforth Stadium), and got to walk the track for opening and closing ceremonies. I will never forget the opening ceremony. The United States is at the end of the alphabet, so we had to wait forever, but when they called our name, it was insane hearing 80,000 people cheering for us. I walked right past the Queen, Prince William, Kate and the rest of the royal family.
The games themselves were awesome. When we played Great Britain there were 25,000 people there. We didn’t do as well as we had hoped, but only eight 7-a-side men’s soccer teams made it to the Paralympics, so that was an accomplishment itself. The closing ceremony was crazy too. Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay Z were all there performing. I was literally ten feet away from Rihanna. I was living the life!
HC JMU: Who are some of the coolest people you have met thus far?
Adam: I have had the chance to meet so many people; I was so lucky. To name a few…
1. President Barack Obama
2. Allison Schmitt, Swimming (5 total medals in the London 2012 games)
3. Sanya Richards-Ross, Track (400m gold medal)
4. Michael Phelps, Swimming (22x Olympic medalist)
5. Alice Schmidt, Track (800m)
6. The U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team
7. Justin Gatlin, Track (100m bronze medal)
8. Lolo Jones, Track and Field (hurdles)
9. Tyson Gay, Track (4×100 relay silver medal)
Adam’s hard work, dedication and passion for the Paralympic organization have made him such an inspiration, at such a young age. He is going to remain training and competing with the U.S. Paralympic team in hopes of securing a spot in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic games. In the mean time, Adam says he wants to focus on his studies and make the most of his time here at JMU!