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Mary Free Bed alum Mike Ballard sets sights on 2021 Paralympics

Mike Ballard and team at Mary Free BedMike Ballard was living the dream in 2014.

The Gladwin, Michigan native had moved to the luxurious city of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for a teaching job and played club rugby for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins. The Harlequins made it to the finals of the West Asia Cup, an accomplishment that alone was reason to celebrate. But that game changed the course of Mike’s life.

He went in for a tackle and ended up at the bottom of a pile, his back broken, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. After recovering at a local hospital, Mike returned to Michigan to begin inpatient rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed.

Mike spent six weeks doing intensive therapy to help heal and adjust to life with a spinal cord injury.

“They had to teach me how to do everything,” he said in an interview with FOX 17 in Grand Rapids. “(They taught me) how to get out of bed, how to get changed, how to go to the bathroom, how to shower, how to grocery shop …”

He also participated in Mary Free Bed’s Driver Rehabilitation program and learned to drive using hand controls.

Mike spent the next year living in Gladwin, continuing outpatient therapy. In 2016, Mike had regained so much of his independence, so he returned to Abu Dhabi and got back to work.

“I’m a special education teacher, so I work with kids with severe disabilities,” he told FOX 17. “I’ve got a pretty strong background … focusing on the things that you can do.”

It wasn’t long before Mike felt the need to compete again. He took up kayaking and set his sights on competing for Team USA at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the games until 2021, but that does not mean he’s given up training.

Learn more about Mike’s journey here.

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