Against the Odds
Local soccer players, Adam Ballou and Jerreme Wade, share their stories of triumph over unique circumstances and heading to London to compete in the Paralympics
Riding the tail end of the Olympics were the Paralympics events, which kicked off at the end of August. Oftentimes the Paralympics are confused with the Special Olympics, but there is a vast difference between the organizations. Paralympic participants do not have cognitive disabilities and are instead distinguished by physical hindrances, such as cerebral palsy evident in Men’s 7-a-side Football players Adam Ballou and Jerreme Wade, two Hampton Roads natives who traveled to London to compete in this year’s competition.
Adam Ballou had to overcome more than the average toddler prior to competing in international soccer competitions. At a ripe 6 months old he had a stroke and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He is hemiplegic, which means one side—the left side—of his body is affected.
“One of the nurses told my dad I’d be a vegetable and to learn to deal with it— or just to not expect much,” Ballou said. “My dad wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
After a tendon transfer on his left foot, he was able to correct his limp and utilize both feet to play sports. He said he was never treated like he was disabled on or off the field. His athletic family and coaches embraced his weaker side and encouraged him to use both of his feet in sports. He even says that he plays better on his challenged side.
“Proving people wrong is awesome, but now proving myself right is even better. I can do anything that anyone else can do,” he said.
When he’s not training he’s at the Oceanfront or fishing during the summers, but during the school year he’s a full time sophomore studying international affairs at James Madison University.
Just 48 hours after finishing his exams last January, Ballou retreated home to Hampton Roads to begin residency or training at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex. As summer encroached he flew to Chula Vista, California to meet and train with his teammates for his first Paralympics competition.
Jerreme Wade, another Paralympics participant, hails from Chesapeake. When he was born he had a stroke, which also affected his left side. Six seizures a month were common for Wade prior to the life changing surgeries he had in 2009. After spending 29 days at VCU he’s able to celebrate a fourth year seizure-free. At Grassfield High School he played varsity football and soccer. Wade mobilizes both feet, but he is more conscientious and focused when scoring from the left.
He was scouted for the Paralympics when he coached at Chesapeake Select Soccer Club and another coach noticed his weaker left side at play. He was approached, and before he knew it he was training alongside the team at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex. After seven weeks of training in Chula Vista, Wade believes they conjured a team chemistry that is hard to develop because each team member has their own schedule—with jobs and school—so they take full advantage of their training time together.
“I always thought when I was on the field that I had something to prove. I always wanted to work harder than the next man, but I feel like I’m on an even playing field. We all deal with the same adversity so we can push each other through,” Wade said.
After the Paralympics simmer down Wade will return to his routine—studying sports journalism at Tidewater Community College, working at the YMCA and Chili’s, coaching for club teams and still allowing time for his nonprofit work with the American Heart and Stroke Association.