A Greek inspiration….and Cody’s long road from Texas to Vatican City

In Vatican, and by Greek initiative, young Cody McCasland was honored like a true Olympic victor.
On Saturday, September 11th 2012, and during a deeply moving and highly successful ceremony held at the Aula Magna of the University “Pontificia Università Urbaniana” in Vatican City (Rome), the International Giuseppe Sciacca Awards were presented to young people between 18 and 35 years of age for achievements in arts, culture, science and society. Special distinctions were also awarded to renowned personalities.

Rev. Cardinale Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Cody McCasland, Tina Dean, Vicky Bafataki, Rev. Prof. Don Bruno Lima

The Absolute Winner of this year’s International Giuseppe Sciacca Awards was 11- year- old American athlete Cody McCasland, a recommendation of the 17-year-old basketball champion Georgios – Nektarios Delis unanimously adopted by the Awards Committee. Cody suffers from a rare degenerative disease called Sacral Agenesis, which caused deformations of his spinal cord when he was still in his mother’s womb. This magnanimous young boy, poster child for a hospital in Texas, has an abnormal heart, suffers from painful bladder syndrome, has a four- fingered hand that is shorter than his other one, and underwent a lower extremity amputation operation on both legs when he was merely 15 months old. At 17 months of age, Cody got his first pair of artificial legs and hasn’t stopped moving ever since.

He has been running, swimming, playing soccer and hockey and is a celebrated triathlon champion. Cody has underwent 20 surgical operations and has had 13 different pairs of prosthetic limbs. For his courage and iron will, he was chosen by the US Ministry of Defense to raise the morale of wounded and amputated soldiers who return from foreign missions.

George – Nektarios Delis (Greece) and Cody McCasland (U.S.A.)

Despite the physical challenges he is facing, Cody travelled for the first time overseas to Rome to receive in person his International Giuseppe Sciacca Award along with his family.

Early on the day of the awards he met for the first time 17-year-old basketball player Georgios – Nektarios Delis, the young athlete who strongly endorsed Cody’s nomination. But it was the powerful and deeply moving letter which accompanied this nomination that won the hearts of the Jury of the Awards and convinced them of Cody’s amazing will for life. The young boy with the “iron legs” run to Georgios-Nektarios’ arms and it was as if they knew each their whole lives. Afterwards, they went on a guided tour around the Colosseum, followed by the crew of the Italian news programme TG5. The young American, excited from his visit to the historical monument, couldn’t stop talking about the Gladiators.

The boys were accompanied by the General Secretary as well as the President of the International Giuseppe Sciacca Awards, Mrs. Vicky Bafataki and Don Bruno Lima respectively, while they were all interviewed by Italian mass media (Τg5, Corriere della Sera etc). A small child with a superhero’s heart, Cody McCasland expressed his gratitude to the International Giuseppe Sciacca Awards Committee for the honor of acknowledging his struggle to lead a normal life, and to his family for their unconditional and unfailing support. “Yes, I’m special”, Cody said. “Most people have two legs, but I have many more, a different pair for different occasions, and that helps me stand up to every challenge that lies ahead”.

It was really impressive how the two young athletes connected instantly, proving the power of selfless love. They chatted as two old friends and promised each other to meet again soon in Greece. Cody expressed a wish to visit Acropolis and Ancient Olympia and, naturally, all members of the Greek delegation promised to fulfill this dream of his teaching him, at the same time, his first Greek words.

On Saturday evening, smartly dressed in a black suit and beaming happily at the prospect of his receiving the award of the Absolute Winner, and always accompanied by his mother Tina Dean and his family, Cody made the following statement to Italian and foreign media: “It feels wonderful to be here today. Not only because of the award but also because of all the new people I meet, my new friends. This is an amazing experience. The work of the Awards team is truly admirable and I couldn’t be more grateful”. Cody also had a message for all those out there who face similar problems. “They must keep going, do what they want and follow their dreams”.

When the presenter of the Awards ceremony Savino Zaba announced Cody McCasland from the United States of America as the Absolute Winner, everyone stood up and applauded enthusiastically. And there was not a dry eye in the house when a video of Cody’s life was shown to the members of the audience.

The rationale behind Cody’s award was handed by the President of the Awards Rev. Prof. Bruno Lima to the presenter who read: «11-year-old boy missing his lower limbs from a very young age due to a serious illness. A gifted athlete and a celebrated champion in many different sports. He combines patience, self-denial, sensibility and a strong will for life and altruism. He is an athletic role model who represents the timeless Olympic spirit”.

The award, in the form of a ship, was created by the Greek artist Sakis Chilelis and was presented to Cody by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who mimicked the wavy movement of sailing and of the effort one makes to reach one’s destination. The sparkling eyes and bright smile of the little boy acknowledged the symbolism, and Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos bowed to Cody while offering him the elegant award.

Deeply touched and always smiling, Cody replied to Savino Zaba’s question if this was the first time he ever visited Italy: “Υes, this is my first visit to Italy. But I will return, I love it”. He also mentioned that he is training for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Afterwards, he proudly read his speech: “Good evening! It is a great honor for me to be here today, in Italy, in Vatican City , to receive the Premio Assoluto. It is for this reason that I came all the way from Dallas, Texas. A few months ago I was in Colorado, at the swimming facility of the Olympic Training Centre. Before I returned home, I visited, along with my coach, thrice Olympic medal winner Rudy Garcia Tolson, a place called “the Garden of the Gods”. It was a dramatically rocky area, the likes of which I had never seen before. Huge rock formations covered with ice. Although I don’t have legs, I was able to climb to the top of one those rocks and it was so much fun!

Cody McCasland and Theodora Avgoulidou

Some people feel pity for me because I don’t have legs. But this is exactly what motivates me to show the world what I am capable of. As far back as I can remember, when I wanted to succeed in something, my family always encouraged me, even if I had to follow unusual methods to get there. I am blessed with a courage to overcome any problems that may occur ever since I was a baby. In medical terms I may be considered handicapped but I beg to differ. I consider my condition as a gift! A gift that allows me to travel around the world and meet renowned people. However, what is most important is that I am able to share my story so that others can be motivated and inspired by my example. One of my goals is that one day I may be able to represent the United States at the 26th Paralympics in swimming. I have been training for this since

The brothers Callie & Cody, George-Nektarios & Nicky

I was 5 years old. And I am confident that with the help and support of my family, my trainers and the sports clubs this dream will come true.

Another goal of mine is to study at the University of Texas and become a doctor, an anesthesiologist. I love helping people and taking away their pain.
One last thing. God blessed me with the opportunity to share my story with veterans of war who served in Iraq or Afghanistan as well as with other children. I love telling my story and convincing them that we can all fulfill our goals.

Savino Zaba, Rev. Cardinale Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Cody McCasland, Tina Dean, Vicky Bafataki, Spyros Karaoulanis Rev.Prof.Don Bruno Lima

Last but not least, I would like to thank Georgios Delis (Bafatakis) for recommending me for this prestigious award. It is a true honor for me and a unique experience. I will never forget this. I am also grateful to my family who always encourages me to follow my dreams, unreachable though they may seem at times. Without them nothing would have been possible.
Thank you!”

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Honorary President of the Awards, addressing the young boy said “Cody, you are a remarkable boy. You belong to yourself because you have a charming personality, you belong to your family, but most of all, you belong to the world. You are this world’s hope.

Cody McCasland, Giorgos Nektarios Delis and the model Ria Antoniou

You yourself said that God gave you the opportunity to share these moments with the rest of us. Today, you gave us joy, you gave us an example of what a person who believes in oneself can do. Babies, children, soldiers who are facing problems will have you as a role model, as a Christian role model of patience, effort and confidence. Of course, you wouldn’t be a good Christian if you didn’t have that beautiful smile that brightens this room and the entire world. Thank you, Cody”.

With the opportunity of Cody’s training for the 2020 Paralympic Games, the General Secretary of the Awards Vicky Bafataki handed Cody the eternal symbol of victory, the laurel wreath (cotinos), stating the following as regards the relevance and the symbolism of this very special present: “Since Cody has decided to take part in the Rio Olympic Games, we offer him the cotinos, the symbol of victory which we bring from Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and wish him wholeheartedly to always triumph in life”.

The Cypriot Olympic medalist Pavlos Kontidis placed the cotinos wreath, a creation of the artist Yiannis Suvatzoglu, on Cody’s head and the little boy walked around proudly with it for the rest of the evening. Mr.Spiros Karaoulanis, Deputy Representative of Greece, presented him with an honorary plaque on behalf of the Greek Secretariat of the Giuseppe Sciacca Awards.

Cody thus  decided to gift the Awards audience with a demonstration of his skills by changing his artificial limbs with the pair he uses for his training. Everyone stood up and applauded enthusiastically and rhythmically, as befits a champion, urging him on.

Vicky Bafataki & Theodora Avgoulidou
Edited by Theodora Darveris


My deepest gratitude to all those who, with their help, made Cody’s visit to Rome possible and he was able to make this trip and receive his Premio Assoluto in person. The President of the Awards Rev. Don Bruno Lima for his unconditional trust and support, as well as Pietro Cuccaro, Noemi Tramonti, Antonella Sturna, Giorgio Mammolitti and Fabrizio Marsili. Most of all, I must give heartfelt thanks to the members of the Greek Secretariat of the International Giuseppe Sciacca Awards, namely, Deputy Representative Spyros Karaoulanis for establishing a successful communication with Cody’s family, Theano Karatsioumbani, Katerina Nikou, Theodora Avgoulidou, Antonios-Marios Papagiotis, journalist Georgios Adamopoulos, Niki Delis, Tomasso Rossi, our grand sponsor, and most importantly, Georgios-Nektarios Delis for his inspiration, effort and his fervent support of Cody McCasland’s nomination.

Vasiliki A. Bafataki
General Secretary of the International G. Sciacca Awards (2012)

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