For Graves family, running is as therapeutic for father as it is for son
Since Cody Graves' diagnosis of catastrophic epilepsy, father Don Graves has sought a way to bond with his son. He wanted to find something in sports he could share with Cody, and he decided to take Cody with him on his long, cathartic runs.
Seattle Times staff columnist
How to helpSince beginning therapy, 4-year-old Cody Graves has made remarkable strides. Once told he never would be able to learn, he already has learned to sign words, to imitate, to put together puzzles, eat with a fork and roll a ball. But these therapies are expensive and the Graves family needs support.
If you are interested in donating to their fund, log on to www.crazyforcody.com and click on the PayPal link. Donations also can be mailed to Cody's Hope Donation Fund, Wells Fargo Bank MACP 6632-001, 10010 Shoultes Road, Marysville, WA 98270. Or go to any Wells Fargo Bank and ask for the confidential donation list. Checks can be made out to Cody's Hope.
When Shawna Graves told her husband that the baby she was carrying was a boy, Don Graves was as ecstatic as an Olympian on the medal stand.
He had been an athlete all his life, a four-year starting cornerback at Portland's Lewis & Clark College, a two-year college pole vaulter and a professional rodeo cowboy. Sports always had played an important role in Don's life.
The idea of having a son, of being able to go out in the backyard and teach him all the rough-and-tumble games, and coach him through his formative athletic years, was thrilling for the soon-to-be dad.
But six months after his birth, Cody Graves began experiencing infantile spasms. He was diagnosed with catastrophic epilepsy. There are times, Shawna says, when he can have as many as 25 seizures in an evening while lying next to his mother.
This "soup of seizures," as Shawna calls them, have damaged his brain so severely that doctors told the parents Cody never would be able to learn, never would communicate in any way, never would speak.
When he got that news, Don, a steer wrestler, retired from the rodeo and sold his horse, truck and van to devote more time to his family.
"It just sucks to watch him have seizures and feel so helpless," Don Graves said a few days before Sunday's Seattle Marathon. "From a parental perspective, we want to fix problems and make things better, and we feel so ridiculously helpless not being able to do anything about the seizures."
Since the diagnosis, Don has sought a way to bond with Cody. He wanted to find something in sports he could share with his son. He decided to take Cody with him on his long, cathartic runs.
"There's something very special about that father-son time together," said Shawna, Don's wife of six years. "Running is their time to go out and sort of be free and experience the road together."
These runs have been as therapeutic for dad as they have been for his son. They are profound examples of the beauty and the benefits of sports. Running became the athletic bonding experience Don wanted so badly with his son.
"When Cody was smaller we would go to the playground with him, and all of the other kids would be just running around playing with their dads, and I think that was a dagger to Don's heart," Shawna said. "Don's an athletic guy and he didn't talk about this a lot, but when he did it was powerful. He was hurting."
Before he started running with Cody, Don ran alone. When he returned one day, Shawna asked him what he thought about while he ran.
"Sometimes I think, if I can run fast enough," Don Graves told his wife, "I think I can outrun Cody's illness."
Now, in the stroller, riding as his father pushes him, Cody Graves' demeanor dramatically changes. Normally he is frenetic. He is in constant motion. But in the stroller Cody slows down.
He relaxes, often crossing his right ankle to rest it on his left knee. His father says he looks like "a little pharaoh" accepting a ride from his one of his subjects.
"One thing he really, really craves is motion," Don said, "and when I started taking him jogging with me he loved it. It's been awesome. It's something that we can do together.
"Because of his challenges, he's in his own world most of the time, so he's pretty tough to connect with. But the running and seeing him enjoy it feels great from a fatherly perspective. Here's something I can do with my son that he enjoys and we can connect over. I'm finally able to do something with him and for him."
Because of his illness, Cody needs constant motion. Specialists call it "sensory integration." The Graves have struggled to find ways to meet that need. They take him for long car rides. They put him in a swing that hangs from their ceiling.
"But when he gets to go in the stroller with Daddy and runs, he stops moving," Shawna said. "The stroller's moving for him and giving him that input that he needs. It's one of the few times that Cody is calm in life. It's one of the few times he stops feeling that anxiety, that need to do something.
"And, through running, Cody has provided this really cool, unique opportunity for Don and his son to be athletic together. It's just been a fun diversion from the scary, medical, illness part of our lives."
Even though they were told he would never learn new skills, the Graveses began taking Cody to an intensive and expensive series of occupational, physical, speech and autism therapies, as well as sign-language lessons. Shawna said he requires up to 40 hours of therapy per week.
"You chip away at it," she said.
His progress has been remarkable. After being told they would be wasting their time teaching him sign language, Cody has learned "six to eight" signs.
"It totally changed his attitude when he could communicate," said Don, who lives in Redmond and works as a controller for an aerospace company. "It has had a dramatic impact on his behavior. I think a lot of his kind of crazy and self-stimulation kind of behavior has been because of his inability to communicate."
Cody, who turned 4 last week, has learned the signs for "eat," "help," "open" and "all done." And it has been as if a heavy, locked door to his mind finally has opened.
"When he learned to sign 'eat,' you could see this relief on his face," Shawna said. "Like, 'Finally I can tell you what I need.' He's breaking all of the boundaries everyone put on him. He's accomplished so much more than we hoped. He's our hero, and we think the sky's the limit for him."
Before the start of Sunday's race, the air was unseasonably heavy. The blanket of fog was lifting slowly, leaving a gray, woolen sky. And, as the runners began massing toward the marathon's start line, Don Graves fought back tears.
"I was surprised at how emotional I was at the beginning," he said. "I started thinking that the 26.2 miles I was about to run was nothing compared to what Cody goes through every day."
Cody is the muse behind Don Graves' running. And his illness was the reason Graves decided, two months ago, to run in Sunday's Seattle Marathon. He was running to raise money, to help his son learn, to help his son break through even more barriers.
Just after noon Sunday he entered Memorial Stadium, pushing Cody in a bright red stroller, with signs reading, "Running for Cody's Hope" on both sides. Shawna, her eyes moist, holding their 16-month old son, Casey, in one arm and a "Team Cody" poster in the other, cheered her support as Don and Cody ran down the small hill and onto the stadium's turf.
After running more than 23 miles alone, Don picked up Cody in his stroller and they ran the final hills, the final 3.2 miles together. Don had set a goal of finishing in 4 hours and Team Cody completed their first marathon in 4 hours, 6 minutes.
It was a triumph of the human spirit. A victory over daunting obstacles. A wondrous moment of sport, shared by a father with his son.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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