Mike Ballard moved to Abu Dhabi nine years ago for a teaching job.
He became a professional rugby player before breaking two vertebrae in his back while making a tackle left him paralyzed from the waist down.
"I am a special education teacher so I work with kids with severe disabilities," Ballard said. "I've got a pretty strong background in working with disabilities and focusing on the things that you can do."
Ballard came back to his home state of Michigan to learn what he could do at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids.
"They had to teach me how to do everything," Ballard said. "How to get out of bed, how to get changed, how to go to the bathroom, how to shower, how to grocery shop, how to drive the car."
Two years later Ballard returned to Abu Dhabi. His school saved his job for him.
His competitive juices were flowing.
He had been a kayak tour guide before the accident and decided to kayak competitively.
"The race is a two hundred meter sprint so it is over between 45 and 55 seconds," Ballard said. "It is all about how much power you can generate in that short amount of time so it fit my body type better, it fit my injury better."
Now into his mid-thirties Ballard decided to train for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
COVID-19 postponed qualifying races and then the 2020 games and the beaches where Ballard was training were closed.
Ballard did his best to build a rower in his apartment to train. His former rugby teammates came to his aid lending him a real kayak ergometer to train. Their continued support after his injury has meant a lot.
"It just keeps you focused," Ballard said about their support. "I've got everybody pulling for me, everybody supporting me and it is just good to have those guys around to keep me headed in the right direction."
Ballard thinks the extra year of training before the qualifiers in Hungary will benefit him.
"It gives me another year of preparation," Ballard said. "Whereas some of the other guys were peaking and really ready to go I'm still on my way up still learning my way around, how to kayak and learning my technique.
The qualifiers have been rescheduled for May 2021 and the Tokyo games for August of next year.