Mike Ballard's Tokyo Paralympics preparations receive unexpected support from Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Former rugby player loaned a top-of-the-range kayak ergometer by a player he used to coach at Quins

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Mike Ballard’s bid to compete at next year’s Paralympics in Tokyo has been handed a boost from a familiar source.

The former Abu Dhabi Harlequins rugby player is aiming to compete for the United States in the 200-metre kayak sprint at the Games, which have been postponed by a year because of coronavirus.

Since beaches were closed in the UAE in response to the pandemic, Ballard has been forced to get creative with his training.

He had been using a homemade static kayak, using resistance bands and raised on blocks of wood, on the balcony of his apartment in Al Zeina.

Now, though, he has been loaned a top-of-the-range kayak ergometer by a player he used to coach at Harlequins.

“For me and my coaching staff, we are hustling through it and trying to do it ourselves – but at the same time relying on the community, too,” Ballard, 35, said.

“Out of the blue, I got a text from one of the rugby guys saying he had something I might be interested in.

“It was something I’d spoken to with my coaching team as this being something I needed to get done.

“With not being able to get on the water, it meant that this really needs to happen now. [The homemade kayak] was an intermediate step until I got an actual erg.”

Ballard took delivery of the kayak ergometer on Sunday, and said “it feels like Christmas”.

The new piece of equipment had been in storage since it was used as part of a fitness challenge at an event related to the Special Olympics in the capital last year.

Dan Shields, who was a key figure in the Abu Dhabi Harlequins third team that won the third-tier of domestic rugby two seasons ago, had read about Ballard’s home training methods last week.

He knew that his event company, BSL Middle East, had two devices that might suit his former rugby coach’s needs.

“When I saw the article I thought it seemed silly for Mike to be doing that when we have a couple of these,” Shields said.

“We will use it for future events, but obviously at the moment the events industry is at a standstill.

“But I think my manager, Nancy Power, will be happy for Mike to keep using it until next year to keep his preparations going.”

It feels like Christmas

Shields said he had no idea about kayaking himself, or the merits of the equipment he has passed on.

“When I initially contacted Mike, I said, ‘This may be helpful for you, or you might be better off using your homemade one’,” Shields said.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but Mike said it was ideal.

"The company we had ordered them from had said they had an association with previous Olympics, so I’d guessed it was quite good kit. I’m glad we could help.”

Ballard has only used a proper kayak machine once before, at a Team USA training camp in San Diego last year.

He said he had inquired about having one imported in recent weeks, but could not find one that his coach felt would be suitable.

“Since they shut the beaches down, I have been in touch with importers and exporters, trying to find certain makes and models,” Ballard said.

“My coach has actually shot down a couple of the ones that I would have been able to get shipped in here, but he was really pleased with this one.

“Now I’m excited to sit down with him virtually and over the phone, and come up with a training regimen.

“He’ll have a better idea about what training on an erg is like and what I should be doing.

“It is a very specialised piece of equipment. The only place you would see it would be at a high-end kayaker’s place, or at a kayaking club.

“That is why it was so unexpected to get one via a WhatsApp at the rugby club. I’m excited about it.”