This column was originally published on February 28, 2010.
LANCASTER — When Cody Woolums went out for the Garrard County football team during spring practice of 2007, no one would have blamed him if he felt a little shaky.
When you are 5-foot-1, 117 pounds, you are not exactly built to bring the lumber on the football field.
Yet Woolums, then a freshman, so relished the physical contact of football practices, his teammates started calling him "Mighty Mouse."
From the time the wide receiver/cornerback was assigned his No. 29 Garrard County jersey, Woolums started dreaming of touchdown passes he would catch and interceptions he would make and "take to the house."
"I loved it," Woolums said. "Live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it. I love football."
In that heady spring, Cody had no idea he was weeks away from being the victim of a freak accident that would leave him (up till now) in a wheelchair.
He certainly had no conception that, as a high school senior, he would see his No. 29 jersey score a touchdown for the Garrard County Lions.
Everything changed on May 7, 2007.
As he grew up, it was not unusual for Woolums to "work" for his grandfather's construction firm. Mostly, he got a chance to hang around with his grandfather and uncles while the grown-ups did the real labor.
They were tearing out a section of wall in the basement of a house in Harrodsburg.
"I was on the outside of the wall, that we knew wasn't stable," Woolums said, "and I was told to go back inside in case something fell."
Woolums was inside the house for some 20 minutes, when a powerful physical urge overcame him.
He really needed to use the bathroom.
"On a construction site, residential construction, if you're working on the basement and it is underground, you've got to build your big 4-foot trench around it, down to the basement floor," Woolums said. "So I went through an opening in the wall we were tearing out and went to go around the house to use the bathroom."
The next thing he remembers, everything went dark. A 4-by-6-foot section of brick wall had fallen on Cody.
"I couldn't see anything," Woolums said. "I was awake. It didn't knock me out. But when they uncovered me, my Uncle Bobby (Johnson) said, 'Oh man, he's messed himself up.'"
At one point, Cody reached up to his face "and I realized I can feel my teeth from the outside of my head," he said. "I thought, 'This is not good.'"
Slowly, an even more jarring realization came.
"I looked at my Uncle Bobby," Cody says, "and said, 'I can't feel my legs.'"
By the time the doctors tallied up all the injuries that had befallen the aspiring high school football player, it was miraculous Cody Woolums was alive.
The full medical evaluation came after Cody was evacuated via helicopter from Harrodsburg to the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington. It was after Cody's mom, Julie Peters, "had taken the longest car ride of my life from that hospital in Harrodsburg to Lexington."
All the ribs on the right side of Cody's body were broken. So were most on the left. His shoulder blades were broken. So was his jaw. His back was dislocated. He had a punctured lung. His facial injuries were so severe, they ultimately required six hours of reconstructive surgery.
He also had damage to multiple vertebrae in his back.
"At least they told us there was no brain damage," Julie said. "That was a relief."
There was no dramatic moment when Cody was told his legs were not working as before. "He pretty much knew that himself," Julie said.
What Cody recalls is waking up in the UK Hospital and asking his stepfather, Chris Peters, why his back was itching so bad.
His mom then told him he had had spinal fusion and, without the surgery, he would have never been able to sit up again.
For 24 days, Woolums was in the intensive care unit, then had three more days in normal care at UK. After that, he had three different stints of treatment at Lexington's Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital. There would also be trips to a Shriner's Hospital in Chicago.
Throughout, even knowing he had a wheelchair in his immediate future, Cody kept having the same thought:
Somehow, he wanted to get back to the Garrard County football team.
Before the 2008 football season, Mark Scenters was hired as the new Garrard coach.
At the time, several members from the staff of previous coach Steve Stonebraker made a point, Scenters says, of telling him about a player who was not likely to have a big impact on the new coach's win-loss record.
"They just told me they had a kid who'd been in the program, had gotten hurt and what his story was," Scenters said.
When he came to school for his junior year, Cody met the new coach.
Having heard the team was getting new uniforms, Woolums asked Scenters if there was any chance he had a No. 29 for him.
"He said, 'No, I don't,'" Cody recalls, "and he asked me if there was any other number that would work?"
When Cody got back from a week of treatment in Chicago, Scenters called him down to his classroom. "He's got an away jersey and a home jersey with No. 29 on it that he'd had made for me," Cody says.
Virgil Brown, the Garrard County team chaplain, says being a part of the football team seemed to help Cody cope with the understandable maelstrom of emotions he's dealt with since his accident.
"But it also helped the other kids on the team," Brown said. "He gave those kids a grounding. If they don't want to push through a drill or whatever, they look over at Cody and see what he's been through and understand they don't have any problems."
Turns out, Cody did make an impact during his junior football season.
Before Garrard played heavily favored Breathitt County in the second round of the 2008 Class 3A playoffs, Cody asked to address his teammates.
"Oh my goodness, he gave a talk," says Brown. "He said, 'I'd give anything to be able to do what you all are doing tonight. You don't understand what I'd give to be able to play tonight.'"
Adds Scenters: "He told the other kids, 'play tonight like I'd play if I could rise up out of this chair and be on the field with you for the very first time.' It was powerful."
Must have been. A 4-7 team in 2008, Garrard flat took the fight to a Breathitt team that would go on to be the state runner-up before the Lions fell 28-13.
In the almost three years since his accident, Cody has become far more able to do for himself.
"At first, I couldn't even dress myself," he said. "Now, I'm completely independent."
He's taking driving lessons in a car outfitted with hand controls. He has a job working at a Danville family entertainment center. Next year, he hopes to attend a Lexington community college to study computer-aided drafting.
None of which is to say that his life, or that of his family, is now easy.
"It's been very difficult," Julie Peters said. "And he still has his (bad) days, but from 21/2 years ago to now, he's come a long way."
Cody is convinced he will walk again.
If that doesn't happen? "I think I'd be OK with that," he said. "I'd probably be like, 'Hey, what happened? I thought I was supposed to walk again.' But I'd be OK because I now know how to do everything I need to do."
Whatever the future holds, Cody will always have a football moment from his senior year of high school to savor.
It was Sept. 11, 2009. Garrard County was playing at Estill County when Lions running back Cory Wilson had his No. 24 jersey ripped by a tackler.
The referees ordered Wilson to change his shirt. Problem was, none of Garrard County's spare jerseys fit.
On the sideline, Cody Woolums had a solution.
"I said, 'Cory, you are going to play, you are not coming off the field,'" Cody recalls. "'Take my jersey, put it on, and score.'"
In the fourth quarter of a 42-41 Garrard loss, Wilson did just that, hitting the end zone while wearing No. 29.
Cody Woolums' No. 29.
"After Cory scored, he came over and hugged me and then everyone on the team patted me on the back," Woolums said.
In all of Kentucky high school football in 2009, a more meaningful touchdown was not scored.
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