Feeling his way to victory
Wednesday, 05 February 2014 16:22

Cody Mulligan. (top)  photo by Bill Gates

Blind Sparrows Point wrestler gets his first win

by Bill Gates

Cody Mulligan was about four years old when his parents started to notice that something was a little odd.
    “He would try to grab something, and be way off,” said his mother Sarah.
    Cody remembers playing catch with his dad and feeling around on the ground for the baseball — when it was in his glove.
    Cody was going blind.
    The Sparrows Point High freshman has Juvenile Batten Disease. It is a rare autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder that begins in childhood.
    Among its symptoms are interruption of motor skills, seizures and loss of vision.
    “Cody has been doing great; the only thing it’s affected so far is his sight,” Sarah said.
    Cody’s loss of sight was gradual, but he is now completely blind.
    “He’s adapted very well,” Sarah said. “As adults, you’d think it would be a hard thing to transition to. But kids are resilient.”
    Cody is resilient and athletic.
    A member of the Pointer junior varsity wrestling team, he won his first match two weeks ago.
    This is his first year of wrestling. It is not uncommon for first-year wrestlers to not win any matches.
    Before entering high school, Cody played Adaptive Baseball and Adaptive Soccer, sports programs for children with disabilities.
    In adaptive baseball, the players hit the ball off a special tee, and run the bases with the aid of a sighted teammate.
    (Blind and visually-impaired athletes can also play Beep Baseball, which uses a 16-inch wide beeping baseball and four-foot tall bases that buzz.)
    But, after being encouraged by friends to join the team at Sparrows Point, Cody prefers wrestling.
    “I like being with everyone else,” he said. “I feel like I’m [not disabled].”
    The only difference between Cody’s matches and other wrestling matches is that he and his opponent must always remain in contact.
    If contact is ever broken, the referee halts the match and restarts it.
    When the two wrestlers are in the standing position, they touch hands to stay in contact.
    And once they get down on the mat, well, sight is not always an advantage.
    “We would practice wrestling blindfolded in junior league,” Sparrows Point junior varsity wrestling coach Bobby Gorsuch said. “It helps get a feel for the moves.
    “You feel the other guy starting a move, and you know to give a counter to it.”
    Cody, who wrestles in the 122-pound weight class, works out with the Pointer squad and does everything his teammates do: practices, exercises and runs the halls (with a teammate guiding him).
    In his win, Cody scored a takedown on his opponent and then pinned him.
    “I broke him down at the very beginning and cradled him,” Cody said. “I let his leg go, but kept the half-nelson and pinned him.”
    It is a move he has practiced so many times, “it’s like instinct when you’re out on the mat,” he said.
    The victory delighted his family and boosted his confidence, Sarah said.
    “We were so proud of him, and he was so happy,” she said. “He loves wrestling and doesn’t want the season to end.”
    An environmental studies magnet student at Sparrows Point, Cody is learning his way around the building.
    “I have  friends who help me to class, but I know the school,” he said. “I can walk to class on my own sometimes.”
    While at Parkville Middle School, Cody was a member of the National Junior Honor Society and attended Space Camp.
    He also won a Cinema without Sight award “for a cattle movie,” he said.
    Cody does his schoolwork on an Apex Machine  (which renders digital information in Braille) and uses books and papers written in Braille.
    He eventually would like a career with the Department of Natural Resources.
    For now, he wants to continue wrestling and move up to the varsity squad by his junior year.
    “Cody has been an inspiration to the team,” Pointer varsity coach Mike Whisner said. “The kids admire him for coming out and they really bond.
    “It’s cool to see him running the hallways.”
    Cody, 14, said he really does not have any memories of being able to see.
    “I didn’t realize right away my sight was fading,” he said. “I was so young, it feels like I was always blind. I got used to it.”
    And as for the ways your body supposedly compensates?
    “I’ve heard your other senses get sharper when you lose one,” Cody said. “I hear noises other people don’t hear, so I would say yes. That’s true.”