To my brothers,
When I left my career two years ago, the position I attained, the money, and essentially the pinnacle and culmination of all I had worked for throughout my adult life, I made that sacrifice because I had a vision of what this team could achieve together. I never thought that I would return to the game after college, much less join such a remarkable group of misfits so many years later.
During my first camp, before we qualified for Rio, coach and I sat down and discussed my goals. ”Rio” was all I could muster. Throughout the last couple years, we laughed together, we fought together, we cried together, we sweat together, we bled together, we lost together, and we won together. We did it together with one common goal: competing in the Paralympics.
I often reflect back on the grit and determination this team has displayed so many times over the years, like the time we clawed our way from behind in the final minutes to earn a 5-3 victory against the Footie Povoa host nation, Portugal, to secure a third-place finish ahead of some of the best countries in the world. I think about the skill and mental toughness in overcoming injuries and absences by winning the bronze medal at the 2014 America’s Cup.
I think back to when we took the pitch in the second half against Scotland at the 2015 World Championships trailing 1-0, and looking in every one of your eyes and seeing there was no quit and no way we were going to lose. We fought and we won. Shortly after, we experienced heartbreak after taking the number-four ranked Dutch squad to double overtime to make it to the semifinals. But we rebounded back in a must-win game with a crushing 4-1 victory against Argentina to stamp our passports to Rio. And of course the 4-3 come-from-behind victory again over Argentina in Spain earlier this year.
The U.S. PNT celebrates after punching its ticket to the 2016 Paralympic games with a 4-1 win vs. Argentina at the 2015 Cerebral Palsy Football World Championships.
What truly showed how far this team has come in such a short time was on full display in Rio by concluding our season with a 2-1 victory over Ireland, the same team we lost to 4-1 and 5-0 just months before! Simply incredible, gentlemen.
These few examples, and many others I did not mention, do not fully capture the spirit, mentality, and potential of this team. We accomplished something that men, women, and children all over the world can only dream of. We reached the greatest stage in our sport and we did so while displaying the qualities of what makes our country, and each and every one of you, so great. We represented our country and ourselves with honor, respect, courage, sacrifice, and strength.
I know we are all saying, “what if…” and “if this…”, but the fact of the matter is that we made waves on the international stage. We showed that we’re a dangerous team, a term that had never been used to describe our team until all of you gave everything of yourselves to earn that. Our time in Brazil is something we will all share forever and no one will ever be able to take that from you. What an incredible legacy.
Throughout this tournament, not only did we now show that we belong with the best in the world, but we set this program up for success in the future. Aspiring players around our country who watched each and every one of you and learned of your tremendously powerful and inspirational stories will come into this team for their trials knowing that they will have to work their asses off to join our ranks. The results will come with the foundation that we have laid.
There are no words to capture the pride and love I have for each of you, my brothers. No matter where our roads take us in the future, I want you to know that if you ever need me, I’ll be there, as I know you would do the same for me. Hold your heads up high, reflect on what we did, on who we are, and let’s get back to the grindstone.
Our coach and staff created a formula for success with this team, and we have not fully honored that yet. Coach [Stuart] Sharp has led by example in his dedication to all of us. He has transformed this program and this team, using each of us as his instruments.
I am motivated to get back to work, to put that crest over my chest, and take the pitch with you all again very soon. We have work to do. I love you all.
US National 7-a-side Football Striker / Co-CaptainRead more
It didn’t take long for Adam Ballou to achieve a lifelong dream Thursday night.
And he didn’t even see it happen.
Three minutes into the U.S. Paralympic National Team’s 2-2 draw against the Netherlands, Ballou netted his first career Paralympic goal.
Following a long pass from goalkeeper Sean Boyle, Ballou banged home a goal from just outside the penalty box for a quick 1-0 lead 2:07 into the match. Ballou went down headfirst into the turf after connecting with the ball, but he knew what had happened.
“The first goal was a whirlwind,” Ballou said. “All I saw was space in front. I had one thing on my mind – get to the ball and shoot. …As soon as I hit it, I didn’t even see it hit the back of the net, and the music went off so I knew it was in.
“Then I got to celebrate with my teammates, which was an incredible feeling. First goal of Rio 2016. Absolutely something I’ve been dreaming about,” Ballou said. “To be honest, I haven’t had time to let (this goal) sink in. I’m sure this is going to be one to cherish and remember.
That initial goal helped set the nerves of some of the players, and it helped give the USA plenty of confidence the rest of the match. Head coach Stuart Sharp said the goal also helped “set the tone for the game,” and the rest of the match was an end-to-end battle.
Although the Netherlands’ Jeroen Saedt and Thomas Kleinlugtebeld tallied goals in the 44th and 57th minutes, respectively, to take a late lead, the U.S. battled back to knot it at 2-2 in the final minute. And Ballou was at the center of it again.
With less than 20 seconds remaining, a long sideline throw-in by Seth Jahn set up Ballou. The midfielder then stuck his nose into a crowd to nail a header. The ball then bounced off a Dutch defender and snuck its way into the back of the net. Ballou’s goal set off a raucous celebration on the sidelines, and the PNT held on for the tie.
“The movement was excellent (on that final play). The ball in from the long throw went well, and we got a little break with the ball coming off the defender,” Sharp said. “What I saw was a team that was prepared to fight right until the final whistle.”
Garza guts it out
Perhaps the unsung hero of the match was David Garza.
The defender was dominant on the back line, blocking several Netherlands players’ shots – the Dutch attempted 32 shots, with only 14 of them on goal. Garza was crucial in the U.S. success on Thursday.
His toughness won’t be called into question anytime soon, either. Garza broke his foot in the 24th minute of the first half when a Dutch player made a cleats-up tackle on him. But Garza gutted out the injury, and finished the game.
However, he will be out 8-10 weeks, and he will miss the rest of the 2016 Paralympic Games.
“This time around (being at the Paralympics) means something completely different from 2012,” Ballou said. “The team has grown. The program has grown. We’ve put in so much work. To make this roster and be on the field with these guys, it’s a dream come true. And we’re ready to sit here and do work.”
The U.S. will get right back to doing that work with a match against Iran on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (WATCH LIVE), followed by a matchup with rival Argentina to wrap up group play on Monday.Read more
As the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil approach the U.S. Paralympic Team is making sure it’s ready to take the pitch. With the start of competition only days away, the group trained Wednesday at the facilities of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo in order to get back in the swing of things. Since their week-long Los Angeles training camp ended on August 24, the players have had a reprieve from normal preparations.
“The players have been working extremely hard over the past five months,” head coach Stuart Sharp said. “What we decided to do was taper our conditioning and training program as we got to the final stages of our preparation.”
The PNT was given a four-day break to return home and savor final moments with family before departing for South America, but these were by no means complete days off.
“They still had their individual workouts,” Sharp explained. “We did this in order to have the players at their freshest before the first game.”
Following months of intense training, the team makes its way to Rio Thursday once it completes processing in Houston, a special moment for all Olympic and Paralympic athletes. During processing, every Team USA athlete gathers to be outfitted with all the apparel it needs to represent the country abroad. And while it’s certainly a fun experience, it’s a meaningful one as well.
“It’s like Christmas for an athlete who’s put in four years of work to make the team,” veteran U.S. PNT defender Bryce Boarman said. “In some ways, it’s seeing all your hard work pay off.”
Between receiving gobs of Team USA swag and meeting many of the other Paralympians, the experience is a significant mental milestone to the significance of the representing the country on the international stage.
“It’s part of a process that’s bigger than just receiving new equipment,” Sharp added. “We enter purely as U.S. Soccer. We leave as Team USA. You’re no longer there as an insular unit. You’re there as a larger team.”
The U.S. PNT scrimmages at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, Calif. in preparation for this summer's Paralympic Games.
With the team headed to Rio and residing at the Paralympic Village (the same site as the Olympic Village), the focus turns to preparing for its first match, a showdown with the Netherlands on Sept. 8. Before match day, the U.S. will hold three training sessions at a local military complex and attend the Opening Ceremony on Sept. 7 at the Maracanã Stadium, one of the main stadiums for the 1950 FIFA World Cup and site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final.
“[We’re] continuing to look at video to ensure that when the whistle goes, we’re ready to step on the field and be fully prepared for what [the Netherlands] will bring to us,” Sharp said.
For Boarman, his experience at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London taught him the importance of mental toughness and limiting distractions once the games begin.
“It’s unlike any competition we go to,” Boarman said. “There’s a lot of distractions. Our goal is to be comfortable with our surroundings. That way, when it comes time to perform, that’s our singular focus.”
The USA kicks off Group A play in this summer’s Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on Sept. 8 against fourth-ranked Netherlands, followed by matches against twelfth-ranked Iran on Sept. 10 and sixth-ranked Argentina on Sept. 12, whom the PNT came back to defeat 4-3 on May 6 in Salou, Spain. Group B contains Brazil, Great Britain, Ireland and Ukraine. The top two teams from each group will advance to the Semifinals on Sept. 14, with the medal matches set to take place on Sept. 16.
As its first match approaches, the PNT is excited for the challenge ahead and know what it wants to accomplish.
“Our goal is to end up on the medal stand,” Boarman said. “This is the first time we’ve been together for an extended period of time, and in the last month or two, something has clicked. The spirits are high, and we look forward to testing ourselves in Rio.”
“We’re going in with the mindset that we can create some upsets,” Sharp said. “It was a fantastic achievement for us to qualify, but we’re not finished. We will continue to work to show everyone what we can do on the biggest stage in the world.”
The U.S PNT is always looking for potential athletes. To qualify for the team, members are required to have at least one of three disabilities: cerebral palsy (CP), stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI). If you’re interested in trying out or learning more, contact Head Coach Stuart Sharp at email@example.com.Read more
CHICAGO (Sept. 1, 2016) – U.S. Soccer has released a new video series titled “One Nation. One Team. 14 Stories.” that shares the inspiring stories of all 14 players on the 2016 U.S. Paralympic National Team who will compete at the 2016 Paralympics, which runs from Sept. 7-19 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The exclusive video content featured on ussoccer.com and U.S. Soccer’s YouTube page provides fans an opportunity to hear each PNT players’ unique story, how soccer has helped them overcome their disability, and learn about their hobbies and interests away from the field.
Combining heartfelt stories with humor and real life challenges, these motivating videos share insight into the different personalities and backgrounds of the players on the U.S. team, which features athletes ranging from age 18 to 35, four current or former members of the U.S. military, five players diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP), four with traumatic brain injury (TBI), three who have suffered a stroke and two with a combination of TBI and stroke. The videos feature a wide range of material and topics that makeup “One Nation. One Team. 14 Stories.”
2016 U.S. Soccer Paralympic National Team Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Sean Boyle (Minneapolis, Minn.), Alex Hendricks (Columbus, Ohio)
DEFENDERS (3): Bryce Boarman (Colorado Springs, Colo.), David Garza (San Diego, Calif.), Gavin Sibayan (Denver, Colo.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Mason Abbiate (San Diego, Calif.), Tyler Bennett (Akron, Ohio), Steven Bohlemann (Weston, Fla.), Gregory Brigman (Harrisburg, N.C.), Josh Brunais (Stafford, Va.), Kevin Hensley (Memphis, Tenn.)
FORWARDS (3): Adam Ballou (Virginia Beach, Va.), Drew Bremer (Grand Rapids, Mich.), Seth Jahn (Lakeland, Fla.)
ONE NATION. ONE TEAM. 14 STORIES.
MASON ABBIATE – Midfielder – San Diego, Calif.
Mason was born 26 weeks premature with hydrocephalus when doctors told his parents he may never walk. He has since overcome cerebral palsy to play soccer in high school and is now the youngest player on the PNT.
ADAM BALLOU – Forward – Virginia Beach, Va.
Adam was born with cerebral palsy, but thanks to intense physical and occupational therapy, he was able to start playing soccer at the age of three. Having traveled all over the world with the team, he was inspired to pursue a career as a diplomat and recently completed an internship with the U.S. State Department in Madrid.
TYLER BENNETT – Midfielder – Akron, Ohio
Tyler grew up playing soccer all day, every day, but was 12-years-old when he suffered a ruptured artery, requiring multiple surgeries. After months of rehab, Tyler returned to the field to continue playing the game he loves.
BRYCE BOARMAN – Defender – Colorado Springs, Colo.
Bryce grew up a huge sports fan, wanting to play professionally just like his favorite athletes. Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, his parents encouraged him to pursue his athletic dreams. A veteran of the team, Bryce recently graduated with his Masters in Sports and Exercise Science and hopes to land a job in sports.
STEVEN BOHLEMANN – Midfielder – Westin, Fla.
Steven played college soccer at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University until an accident during his junior year. While jogging at lunch, he was struck from behind by a bicyclist and suffered a traumatic brain injury among other significant injuries. Having since returned to the field, Steven deferred employment at UTC for one year in order to join the U.S. Paralympic National Team.
SEAN BOYLE – Goalkeeper – Minneapolis, Minn.
Last fall, Sean was a goalkeeper at San Jose State University until numbness began to spread throughout his body. Upon further review, doctors discovered a ventricular carnivorous malformation, which required immediate surgery. In less than a year’s time, Sean has established himself as one of the team’s two goalkeepers.
DREW BREMER – Forward – Grand Rapids, Mich.
Drew grew up in a sports-crazed family, often playing one-on-one games in the street with his brother. Although he was born with cerebral palsy, he plays soccer collegiately at Kalamazoo College and joined the U.S. Paralympic National Team last fall after seeing a tweet from the U.S. Women’s National Team supporting the squad.
GREGORY BRIGMAN – Midfielder – Harrisburg, N.C.
Gregory grew up in a football-obsessed family in a football-obsessed town, but broke away to play soccer after having surgery to lengthen his hamstring and Achilles tendon in second grade. Once in college, he discovered his passion for refereeing and now officiates in the Atlantic Coast Conference. After joining the team in March, he opted to leave his engineering job to focus full-time on making the roster.
JOSH BRUNAIS – Midfielder – Stafford, Va.
Ever since childhood, Josh has been passionate about soccer and the military. Once he reached high school, he put soccer aside to prepare himself to join the Army, where he would complete multiple missions overseas. In 2007, he was involved in a tragic helicopter accident, which left him in multiple braces for a long time. Josh left the military in July 2015 and now proudly represents his country on the soccer field.
DAVID GARZA – Defender – San Diego, Calif.
During David’s freshman year of college, he was involved in a serious car accident resulting in six major surgeries and a month-long coma. Thinking his international soccer dreams were over, he decided to represent his country by joining the Army. He is proud to be one of a small percentage of Hispanic officers in the military and defy the odds to represent his country on the international soccer stage.
ALEX HENDRICKS – Goalkeeper – Columbus, Ohio
Alex dreamed of wearing the U.S. Soccer crest as a child, but at the age of 12, a freak injury while playing futsal led doctors to discover a brain tumor. As a result, he underwent major surgery and was pronounced dead on the operating table twice. Alex eventually regained his soccer ability and has been a part of the U.S. Paralympic National Team for over five years.
KEVIN HENSELY – Midfielder – Memphis, Tenn.
Kevin grew up playing soccer all over the country, eventually joining the Olympic Development Program in Tennessee. In 2006, he collapsed after suffering a stroke at home, but continued to chase his passion for soccer. Now the captain of the U.S. Soccer Paralympic National Team, Kevin coaches youth soccer players when not representing his country on the international stage.
SETH JAHN – Forward – Lakeland, Fla.
Seth suffered multiple serious injuries while serving in the military, but none more so than an accident in east Afghanistan. He overcame the odds to make a full recovery and vowed to explore the world, having traveled to over 80 countries. Conquering the seven summits, competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and pursuing higher education are just a few of Seth’s latest goals.
GAVIN SIBAYAN – Defender – Denver, Colo.
Gavin joined the Army in 2005 and was deployed one year later. During his time overseas, he was hit by three improvised explosive devices in 30 days. After returning home, he suffered two strokes and lost feeling in the right side of his body. His courage led him to pursue (and eventually secure) a roster spot on the U.S. Soccer Paralympic National Team.