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Alex having a Ball in a boat after leaving Bradford Bulls
Former Bulls player Alex Ball is dreaming of Olympic glory after swapping rugby league for rowing.
The 23-year-old progressed through the rugby union ranks at Leeds and was offered the chance to join Saracens before switching codes and joining Bradford two years ago.
Ball was handed an 18-month contract after impressing during a trial following a recommendation by then chief executive Ryan Duckett, who he met during a loan spell at Otley.
He never made a first-team appearance for the Bulls, largely due to a chronic back problem, and left the club at the end of last season.
The 6ft 5in powerhouse, who weighs more than 18 stone and hails from Penistone in South Yorkshire, has now called time on his rugby career to focus solely on rowing.
“A friend of mine asked me to come down to his rowing club because he’d seen my height and physique and thought I could be a decent guy to go in a boat with,” said Headingley-based Ball.
“I went down to Bradford Rowing Club with my friend and the coach was quite impressed.
“There is a ‘learn to row’ group which I was supposed to join and runs for four months. But I just bypassed that completely, did a bit with the senior squad and the coach then contacted a guy from British Rowing.
“He said ‘I’ve got a guy you should take a look at’, so I did some 250-metre tests which were a second quicker than anyone in my age and half a second faster than anyone who had tested before.
“I then got invited to another round of testing in Doncaster and two days later they called me and said they would like me to join the Great Britain Start programme.
“That began at the start of December and they put you forward with the name of a club, whether that be Doncaster or Bradford, and you train with them every day.”
Ball is an awesome physical specimen and rowing would appear to complement his huge frame perfectly.
He is rowing individually and as part of a pair and has already recorded a British record for 1km, which he hopes to make official in the near future, as well as records at 100, 300 and 500 metres.
He has also flourished in power testing, largely due to his strong rugby background, and has set his sights of making it to the very top.
Ball’s problem is that his rowing commitments are unfunded and he is seeking sponsorship to help him pursue his Olympics dream of making the Great Britain team at Rio 2016.
“I’m living off what little savings I’ve got from rugby and trying to find some sponsorship while I’ve still got this in the bank,” he said.
“Helen Glover was on the start programme two years before the London Olympics and she won gold in the rowing in 2012.
“Winning gold in Rio would be the dream. That’s a massive ask, and there a lot of things that could prevent that, but that’s my goal.
“I’ve written to a couple of development funds and a few local businesses as I need to find some sort of sponsorship.”
Despite not making a first-team appearance for the Bulls, Ball was a popular, if low-profile, member of Mick Potter’s squad last year.
He reflected: “I was picked for the first game at Dewsbury in January 2012 but it was that week that I found out from the scan on my back that it was fractured.
“There were a few props injured at the start of the season and if I’d been fit I would have had to play.
“Mick was telling me I was doing the right things and if I wasn’t playing then I would have gone out on loan.
“I got told I needed at least three months’ rest and then it just got to the point where I needed this scan, which if I’d got the all-clear I could have got seven or eight games.
“But my injuries and the financial problems aside, Bradford is a great club. I was shocked how easy and welcoming it was to fit in there.
“Rugby union clubs tend to be very aggressive within the team and if you are young then you really have to earn respect.
“I was welcomed in straight away and enjoyed my time at Bradford. Things like the RAF camp were an experience and there were some good memories with real characters in the team.
“I’ll always love rugby but my focus is very much on rowing now.”
To enquire about sponsoring Ball as he chases his Olympic dream, e-mail him on firstname.lastname@example.org.