A THANKSGIVING STORY: Paralyzed, Cody Goss refuses to be a victim

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cycling at 30 mph is the latest push in Cody Goss’ constant effort to prevent paraplegia from dictating his physical state.

“I’m kind of a speed freak,” he said, sitting in the Vicksburg National Military Park on the hand cycle he purchased three weeks ago through e-Bay.

Only two years and four months ago, Goss was checking out of the hospital after his legs were paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.

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“I’m probably stronger in my upper body than I was before,” said Goss, 32.

Before the hand cycle, he’d wheel himself three miles through the VNMP in his 40-pound, non-electric wheelchair. He made it to the Louisiana State Memorial ­­­— the park’s highest point — several times and then held his hands on the wheels to slowly roll back down the hill.

“I don’t let much of anything stop me when it comes to my wheelchair,” he said.

Since June 10, 2008, Goss has applied that driven attitude to most facets of life. On that day, the day before his 30th birthday, Goss wrecked his motorcycle while returning home from paying his water bill. Driving on Jeff Davis Road, he turned right on a curve, and hit a patch of gravel. He was propelled 15 yards from his bike onto a concrete driveway at Yokena Presbyterian Church.

He remembers little, but knows someone called 911 and he ended up at University Medical Center in Jackson.

“My wife said I couldn’t feel my feet as I was being taken into River Region,” where he was sent first, he said. “I had that feeling that something was really wrong.”

He was right. He had 11 broken ribs, bleeding in the brain, a shoulder shattered in two places and an incomplete break in his spinal cord.

At UMC, surgery to stabilize his spine meant two 14-inch-long titanium rods were inserted. Goss remained at UMC for two more weeks, then went to a rehabilitation facility.

Back in Vicksburg, Theresa Holeman was Goss’ physical therapist for more than six months.

“He could only transfer himself in and out of bed and on an off his wheelchair” when they met, she said. “He couldn’t even drive, he was very weak.”

Goss was employed at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station at the time of the wreck and previously had worked at Baxter Wilson Power Plant and had been in the Navy for eight years.

“I felt lost as a man, finding out I couldn’t go back to my job,” Goss said last week.

It was during that deepest point that he came to rely on his “four Fs” of support.

“Faith, family, friends, forward direction — that’s what has gotten me through,” he said.

At the top of his list of supporters has been his wife, Sarah.

“I couldn’t have done it without her” and the help and support of his daughters, Kathryn, 8, and Shelby, 6, he said. “I’d be nowhere without my family.”

“I remember the first time I thought ‘things will be OK,’” said Sarah Goss. “He was still in the intensive care unit, and I was trying to explain to our daughters that he’d be in a wheelchair.

“Kathyrn, who was 6 at the time, said, ‘Don’t worry, I will push him wherever he needs to go.’ Then, Shelby, who was 4, said, ‘And I will sit on his lap and keep him company while sister pushes,’” Sarah Goss said.

Today, she talks about how her family has grown.

“When you go through something like that, the level of trust really deepens. You learn what’s important, and to really enjoy spending time as a family,” she said.

Cody Goss’ former co-workers and fellow members of Bowmar Baptist Church lent helping hands by holding bake sales and donating time and money.

Their house had to be renovated, and Goss’ vehicle had to be modified to accommodate his new needs.

“The daughter of one of my friends from Baxter Wilson had a lemonade sale to raise money,” Goss said. “One person gave a $100 bill. So many faceless, nameless people did so much. That’s my upshot to having this happen to me.”

Then Goss decided it was time to help himself.

“I started putting on a little weight,” he said. “I didn’t respond well to what I saw in the mirror, so I decided to change it.”

Holeman said Goss’ motivation allowed him to surpass expectations.

“He never came in with a ‘poor is me’ attitude — he always said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ At first, he was unable to exercise, even with his arms and basic stuff,” she said. “He probably doubled, or maybe even tripled, his strength because he pushed himself so hard.”

He lifts weights three times a week, performs mechanical work on vehicles at his home shop and bikes twice a week in the park, concentrating on cardiovascular exercise.

But Goss’ reasons for pushing his physical limits were greater than aesthetic incentives.

“I enjoy feeling the rush of accomplishment,” he said, and his bike is a symbol of that push for personal development.

“After lying on my back for so long because of the accident, it’s hard to put in words how great this freedom of motion is,” he said. “I’m doing this for myself, but if someone can be empowered through it — well that’s great, too.”

One person empowered by Goss is his own father.

“I can’t express how it feels watching him go through all that he has, and then seeing him do so well,” Robert Goss, 59, said. “I don’t know if I could have done what he has. Cody has taught me something. His drive to do for himself is twice what it once was… I’m so dang proud of him I can barely stand myself.”

Staying true to his “forward direction,” Cody Goss has enrolled online at the University of Southern Mississippi, taking courses to become a construction engineering technician, and continuing his twice-a-week bike trips through the park in preparation for March­ — when he plans to participate in the annual Run Thru History.

“He isn’t limited in what he wants,” Sarah Goss said. “He might have to work longer and harder, but he will do it.”