Amy Donaldson: Thanks to the support of teammates, disabilities don't stop Riverton kicker

Published: Sunday, Oct. 6 2013 7:55 p.m. MDT

Riverton High School football players visit special needs students at The Kauri Sue Hamilton School in Riverton Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. The players sang their fight song and gave out football T-shirts for the students to wear every Friday in support of the team.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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RIVERTON — As the ball sailed through the uprights, the sideline erupted in the kind of celebration that usually accompanies a game-winner.

And maybe, depending on how one defines the game, it was exactly that.

Cody Taylor was the player who kicked the 71st point of Riverton’s 71-50 victory against Lehi on Friday night. It was a brief moment in a very eventful two hours, but it was magical for Taylor and the boys who cheered and slapped the pads of the 5-foot-5, 115-pound junior.

“It was exhilaration,” he said of making the first extra point of his prep career. “It was an adrenaline rush. I was happy it went in, and I was grateful for the support my team gave me. I was grateful that I received the opportunity to try.”

That’s really all Taylor has ever asked for — an opportunity to try.

Doubts about what he could or couldn’t do, whether he would or wouldn’t live, and what kind of life he may or may not enjoy began even before he was born 17 years ago next week.

“In my very first ultrasound we found out there were problems of some kind,” said Amy Taylor, Cody’s mom. “The tech was quiet, doesn’t say a whole lot, and we’d been through this three other times, so we knew there was something wrong.”

Amy and her husband James convinced the tech to tell them what she thought she’d seen on that computer screen.

“She said, ‘It looks like he has club feet,'” Amy said. “I’d worked for a pediatrician. I knew that could be corrected with surgery.”

But that wasn’t the only problem, doctors later told the couple. It appeared, after meeting with researchers at the University of Utah, that Cody also had club hands and arthrogryposis, a rare non-progressive muscle disorder causing stiff or immobile joints. It can affect internal organs, causing breathing problems, feeding problems, speech disorders and in some cases mental disabilities.

That revelation began an emotional roller coaster in which doctors were alternately bleak and optimistic. Throughout the remaining six months, Amy and James simply dealt with each blow and each glimmer of hope as best they could.

“They weren’t sure he (would) make it through the pregnancy,” Amy Taylor said. “And then they thought, 'If he makes it, he might not live very long.' ... That first day, of course, you’re devastated. You’re not expecting something like that. But we have a wonderful support system and our faith, and we just felt very blessed that everything was going to be fine.”

Throughout the monthly ultrasounds and agonizing predictions, Amy held on to what it would be like when she met her youngest child.

“I thought, ‘I just can’t wait to hold him, and look at him, and we’ll just go from there,'” she said.

Cody’s situation became more complicated when, at age 4, doctors discovered that he also had a congenital heart defect. He has a bicuspid aortic valve, when a normal aortic valve is tricuspid. His doctors have always had some restrictions on his activities, especially forbidding him from playing any kind of contact sport.

For some people that would be the end of it. A life-threatening health problem is certainly good reason to see a dead end.

But Cody doesn’t see dead ends. Detours, maybe. In fact, the teen has become an expert at figuring out ways to accomplish what most people don’t think he should even attempt.