Robert Balk graduated from the School of Management in 1988.
He had played on the UB Mad Turtles rugby team and was training that summer to play for the Boston Men’s Club. He was looking forward to the exciting world of opportunity ahead when life took a tragic turn. He fell from a roof and became paralyzed below the waist.
Balk didn’t return to sports immediately. “At first I just started going back to the gym for exercise. That was a lot of fun and helped me work my way back socially,” he says. “I made a lot of friends and realized being in a wheelchair was not going to isolate me from the world.”
Eventually, Balk started playing wheelchair basketball. In his first year, he was named “Rookie of the Year” and made the state All-Star team. “Being involved with a larger group of people with disabilities also helped me realize that I did not need to view myself as different because of my disability,” he says. “It was a great learning experience for me as well as being a lot of fun!”
He went back to school for his MBA at the University of Rochester in 1992 and graduated in 1995 focusing on finance, international business and operations. He also studied for a semester at Sydney University.
Despite a rigorous schedule, he continued playing basketball and did some wheelchair road races (5K-10K). Then he met Mark Wellman from the U.S. Disabled Cross Country Ski Team who encouraged him to give skiing a try. After only a few months of skiing, he qualified for the Nationals in 1994. “I managed to ski well enough at Nationals to make the Paralympic team. From there I was hooked and just got more involved with more sports.” Balk says.
Balk landed a job at Boeing through a friend he had met at Sydney University. “It definitely pays to network!” he says. He started in business development for a Boeing organization called Information & Communications Systems in Seattle, Washington, where he was part of a team looking for commercial opportunities in which Boeing could leverage some of its technical skills and assets. Following a reorganization after the purchase of McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell, Balk was relocated to Southern California to work for Space & Communications Group, one of three groups established at the time, the other two being Commercial Aircraft and Military