Extraordinary person Wheel Blacks Cody Everson
Cody Everson looks for the positive in any situation; he is also highly competitive. So when he was paralysed at 15, his immediate reaction was to find wins wherever he could.
“I just wanted to feed myself, I just wanted to brush my teeth, I just wanted to wash myself,” he says. “That was the biggest drive for me – anything I’d done myself was a win. I think that really got me through the grieving stage, where I knew I wasn’t going to walk again. I just had to keep celebrating these small wins.”
Growing up in Christchurch, Cody, 23, played rugby league, rode BMX bikes and did athletics, but his driving ambition was to be an All Black. He says he really only went to school to play rugby.
He was playing his favourite game when a tackle took him down. He sustained a neck injury and is now a tetraplegic, meaning all of his limbs are affected by paralysis.
“I spent six months in hospital and I honestly can say there was not one day where I didn’t have friends or family there,” Cody remembers. “I’d have friends leaving school early to come and see me and Dad would make me dinner and bring it in because I didn’t want to eat the hospital food, which I appreciated so much.”
While at the Burwood Spinal Unit, Cody met Sholto Taylor, a longtime member of New Zealand’s Wheelchair rugby team the Wheel Blacks, who mentors young patients getting to grips with their new realities.
“As a 15-year-old boy, you don’t want to hang out with people in wheelchairs, you want to be normal and hang out with your mates because you don’t want people to see the wheelchair,“ says Cody, who has a reputation for being a jokester. “Sholto’s role in Burwood is as a life coach; he teaches you how to live in a chair. And me and him really got on because he had his accident young and he’s been through it all before.“
Sholto encouraged Cody to watch the Wheel Blacks in action, giving the boy who wanted to be an All Black a new dream to work towards.
“Watching the Wheel Blacks play, I was like, man, I want to do that,“ says Cody. “Playing rugby, I was one of the pretty boys who scored all the tries,“ he deadpans. “I’m a defender now, so I don’t get the ball. I block people, I get in people’s way so my high pointers can score all the points. I’m the shining light in the background who makes these guys look good.“
Cody appreciates the opportunities he has had since being injured and works hard to stay physically healthy and mentally positive so he can make the most of them. He is fortunate that his partner and staunch supporter Jess is almost as passionate about the Wheel Blacks as he is, working as a team carer and accompanying the team when they travel. If the Wheel Blacks play at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in August next year, Jess will be there, cheering them all the way.
“I help a lot of the players with day-to-day tasks, things like getting up in the morning, and making sure everyone is as ready as they can be for the games,” says Jess.
Jess and Cody met through mutual friends; he says he “stalked” her on Facebook before they went out. She says, “He gave me this weird little pickup line and then we kinda just started chatting, because he’s got really good chat and we vibed quite well.”
Watching Cody play, Jess developed an appreciation for Wheelchair rugby’s speed and intensity. “She really fell in love with the sport,” says Cody. “It used to be my thing, but now it’s our thing, which is quite cool. She understands the training side, she knows my body, she knows when I’m stressed. And she makes life so much easier for me, which is something I’m so grateful for.”
For Cody, who inspires others with his positive and joyful approach to every aspect of life, captaining the Wheel Blacks when they earned a qualification slot for New Zealand for the Paralympics was the icing on the cake.
“Coming into Wheelchair rugby after having such a serious accident, it was all about being in a team again,“ he says. “It’s a massive honour and it’s a massive achievement for me and the team. So that’s my drive – to be the best I can be for the team.”
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