Texas teen gets ready to represent the United States at the 2018 IWAS Youth Games
Breathe deeply and count backward from 100.
Those are typically the words someone would hear before being put to sleep during a surgical procedure.
For 16-year-old Cody McCasland, those are words he’s heard more than 30 times over his young life as a result of Caudal regression syndrome or sacral agenesis, a congenital birth disorder that causes damage to the lower spine. As a result, McCasland had both of his legs amputated above the knee when he was just 15-months old.
By 18-months-old he was fitted with his first pair of prosthetic legs and when he turned 4-years-old, he announced his desire to compete in the Olympics. Without batting an eye, McCasland’s mother started doing research and soon learned about the Paralympics.
By the time he was five, McCasland was showing his competitive nature in the pool and five years later he competed in his first national swim event. From the 2016 Paralympic time trials for Rio to the countless swim meets along the way, McCasland is well on his way to achieving Paralympic gold.
Now, McCasland is about to be one step closer to his Paralympic dreams when he and members of Team USA travel to Ireland to compete in the 2018 IWAS Youth Games.
“My parents have been advocates for me basically,” says McCasland. “They have been making sure that I get all the coaching that I need, making sure I get to where I need to be. They are my support. They have helped me with everything.”
For McCasland, he really can’t remember a time when he didn’t experience growing up any differently from the other kids in Keller, Texas.
“It was just all so normal,” says McCasland. “I wake up at 5am for practice, return home to get ready for school, go to school and come home about 4pm and then go to practice again. That’s my day to day life.”
McCasland, a varsity swimmer at his high school, has always enjoyed being in the water even before his amputation surgery.
“Mom enrolled me in the ‘Mommy and Me’ swim classes and that’s where I fell in love with the water,” he says.
Out of the water McCasland keeps busy helping out and representing the programs at the Challenged Athlete Foundation as well as experiencing his second favorite sport of running.
“When I was five, my parents took me to the doctors and told them that Cody wants to run,” says McCasland. “They figured out that they could make running legs for me and for two months I couldn’t run because I didn’t know how to use them. Finally, it just clicked one day, and I was running. It was really cool because I had never experienced running before that.”
At the time, McCasland was one of the youngest people to be fitted with a prosthetic specifically for running.
But being in the water is his passion and as he readies himself for the competition of a lifetime, he doesn’t take being on Team USA lightly. He knows he’ll have to be mentally and physically prepared for each heat and regularly puts himself through a mental checklist to help ensure he keeps focused.
“I always have goals in mind before I go to a swim meet,” says McCasland. “Before I even walk onto the pool deck or even get wet, I’m already thinking in my head what I’m going to do at this meet – I want to drop a second in this race or I want to drop a second in that race. I want to go as hard as I can. That type of thinking.”
McCasland credits his athletic success on the training he received from his coaches, the support he got from his family and the guidance he got from his mentor and friend, Paralympic swimmer Rudy Garcia-Tolson.
“Being in sports has just helped me keep active and stay active,” says McCasland. “It’s helped me make friends and helped me make connections with people outside of school with people who have a love for the same sport I do. I’m treated just like every other student basically.”
McCasland, a sophomore at Keller High School, is already setting his sights on his collegiate goals and hopes to attend the University of Texas where he wants to study to become a pediatric anesthesiologist.
“After having over 30 surgeries in my life, and all the hospitals and doctors I’ve been around, it [medical profession] basically pulls you into the career path,” says McCasland. “Amy Ho, my anesthesiologist, was probably my inspiration into the field.”
Please count backward from 100 …