ody Holder’s last pitch was 86 miles per hour.
It wasn’t on a dusty baseball field somewhere in Middle Tennessee or on a rocky practice field somewhere in the outskirts of Coffee County. It was a hot June day at Bonnaroo, of all places.
“I was at Bonnaroo and they had the fastest pitch machine up there,” said Cody, sitting in his wheelchair, waving his right arm around as if he were about to demonstrate that very moment. “I reached back, gunned one up there – 86.”
Then life threw Cody a curveball. It’s ironic since he was known to make opposing batters look foolish with his curveball.
Cody Holder, pictured here in his room, was a promising baseball prospect before a swimming pool accident left him in a wheelchair. (Staff photo by Josh Peterson)
“I wish I could go back. I’d love to be playing ball right now,” he said, mood tempered and his mellow sense of humor taking a back seat to a more serious tone. He adjusts the Coffee County High School baseball cap that he never wore in a game. “I hate that I’m not out there.” His humor quickly returns but his words are serious. “I hate to leave Justen [Cooper] out there as the only senior [for the CHS baseball team this year.] I feel bad for him.”
It is June 22, 2009 that Cody wants to go back to.
It was then, at age 14, when Cody dove into his family’s swimming pool as a normal, athletic, soon-to-be freshman baseball player. He came out of the water a different person. Carried out of the pool by his uncle, he wasn’t breathing. His eyes were open and glossed over. His lips were blue. He was flirting with death.
Cody had collided with the wall and the bottom of the pool, fracturing the C5 vertebrae of his spinal column. Conscious but unable to move, Cody floundered at the bottom of his family’s pool before he was discovered by his uncle, Matt Holder, who pulled him from the pool and, along with his father Mark, performed CPR for five minutes before he began to breathe again.
A six-hour surgery, months of rehabilitation at Shepherd Center – one of the nation’s leading spinal rehabilitation facilities in Atlanta – another spinal fusion surgery in 2011 and countless rehabilitation sessions later, and Cody will graduate with the class of 2013 next Friday. Not only will he graduate on time, but he will graduate in the top 10 percent of the class – 31st in the class of 377 to be exact.
“I was pretty determined to get back [to school,]” said Cody. He missed the entire first semester of his freshman year while rehabilitating in Atlanta. It was there he regained most of the use in his arms, hands and fingers. His fine motor skills are still not exact (he had to learn to write all over again) and movement in his legs is still limited, even though he is able to stand for a couple of minutes at a time now. He can’t walk on his own.
“I turned down a lot of assistance. I didn’t like that. The [school] tried to give me all of these assisted devices, computers and laptops and I said if I can’t do it normal then I don’t want to.
“They had to teach me to write again because I can’t hold a pen right anymore,” he explained, showing his new pen grip that involves the use of his entire hand and not just his fingers. “They tried to give me this thing to rig it up and I didn’t want to do that. I do it on my own … and I write pretty as ever.”
The next step forward
erhaps that “do it on my own” mentality has led to bigger things for Cody than baseball. An avid Alabama Crimson Tide fan, he was accepted to the University of Alabama and thanks to the 31 (out of 36) he scored on his ACT he was given a full academic scholarship.
“I was going to [go to Alabama] but I decided the four hour drive there is a lot,” Cody said, admitting that some little things still handicap him physically. Mentally he is far from handicapped. He took the ACT just one time – his junior year – and was just five points from perfect.
Instead of going to Alabama, he will travel 30 minutes up Interstate 24 to Middle Tennessee State University where he will pursue a career in chemical engineering. If everything goes as planned he will dorm at the school, too.
“I’m going to focus on chemical engineering or something in engineering,” he said. “I want to do something challenging.”
Before he can dorm at the school he admits he needs to fine-tune some of his movements.
“I still need to transfer better. I can transfer but I want to be proficient transferring in and out of a car, being able to take my wheelchair apart and if I were to fall on the floor I need to be able to get back up by myself.”
He knows whatever career path he chooses he faces roadblocks.
“I know that [my wheelchair] is going to limit some of the things I can do. There are certain scientific things I won’t be able to do like some of the lab work I probably won’t be able to do,” Cody explained, adding not all labs will be equipped for someone in a wheelchair.
Books and not ball
efore his accident Cody envisioned himself signing a letter of intent and taking his baseball career to the college level. With a fastball that could touch 80 as a 14-year-old, normal progression could have meant a 90 mile-per-hour heater before he graduated.
“I think I could have gone on to play college baseball.”
Adam Floied, who coached Cody at Coffee County Middle School, couldn’t agree more.
“He is probably the best pitching prospects I ever got to coach,” said Adam, who spearheaded multiple fundraisers and community events to help support the Holder family financially as hospital bills mounted. “To see that happen to someone with his skills took everybody back a little bit. But knowing how determined he was and what a fierce competitor he was there was no doubt in my mind that he would battle through this and make everyone around him a better person for how he has persevered through.” …
Continue reading this complete story in this week’s (May 15) print edition of the Manchester Times. Click here to subscribe to the print and/or full online version of the paper.