Meet the JMU alum with cerebral palsy competing in this year’s Paralympics

Doctors said Adam Ballou might spend life as a human vegetable – now he’s competing in Rio

When JMU alumnus Adam Ballou was born, his doctors told his parents that he might live his whole life as a vegetable. 24 years later, he’s representing the United States at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.13923405_10210568501435771_224950681037807438_o

Playing soccer since he was three years old, Adam has defied odds for over two decades. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after having a stroke when he was six months old. This left the left side of his body substantially weaker, but claims that “the left side is the better side since he’s put so much work into it.” He played several sports growing up, but he was best at soccer. “It was the thing I loved to do most,” he said. “It became my passion.”

He was eventually recruited at age 14 to join the US Paralympic National Team through a series of connections. “I was recruited by the head coach, who also headed a semi-professional soccer team in Virginia Beach. My travel team coach had close ties with him, since he also worked for that organization,” he explained. “They try to find athletes who are tremendous and have had a severe injury. My name came up, he watched me and then flew out to LA to try out. Only 14 get in. People give up jobs to play on this team, so it’s been an amazing opportunity.”


Before getting to JMU, Adam had more opportunities and experiences than most teenagers have under their belt. He overcame adversity, played in several major soccer competitions and has seen much of the world. Even though he had experienced so much already, he says JMU “gave me some of the happiest moments in my life. The community is absolutely incredible, and the Office of Disability Services was accommodating. Even when I was at the London Paralympics, I could not wait to get back to JMU”.


Playing on the Paralympics team helped sculpt his career interests for the future, by being given the opportunities to travel and see the world. He ended up majoring in International Affairs and minoring in Business as a result. He even spent a semester in Salamanca, Spain, and completed an internship for U.S. State Department at the Embassy in Madrid in 2014 as part of his studies, all while managing to balance his soccer career and academics.

After JMU, he has been focused on training for this summer’s Paralympics in Rio. The competition in Rio “has been stiff” so far. There are 60-70 Paralympic national soccer teams, and only the top eight travel to Rio. “We finished seventh at the qualification tournament at the World Championships,” so they knew each game was going to be tough. The US team is currently fighting their way into the semi-finals.


But Adam expressed hope. ”

It’s still mathematically possible to win,” he said. “I know as a team we can do better. What we need to do to repair is come together as a team, and understand what the tasks needs to be. Staying focused is key. We studied the films, spent countless hours on set plays. We play Argentina next, they do what it takes to win, and so do we. It’s a heavy task at hand, we need to win by a significant margin to continue. But this is going to be a great game”.


Despite the hardships, by being with this team, he says, “It’s given me something to look forward to. It always gave me something to work towards and to push forwards. It’s given me the opportunity to travel and meet people, and have incredible experiences I would never have had otherwise. I’m super blessed, and I’m super thankful that my parents raised me to never us my condition as an excuse. Disability does not mean inability. Anything I put my mind to, I can figure out a way to do it. I’m super blessed to be with this team and to make an impact.”

If there is anything we can learn from Adam Ballou, it’s that in the face of adversity, no matter who you are, you can overcome anything, with some determination, devotion, and good ol’ Dukes-spirit.

James Madison University