Herb Benham

Monday, Aug 03 2009 06:47 PM

Herb Benham: Raising the bar for people with disabilities

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    Cody Colchado Jr. dead-lifts 644 pounds in the International Blind Sports Powerliifting and Bench Press World Championships held in Reno, Nev., in 2007.

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By Herb Benham

People complain. That's what they do. If it's not a national sport, it should be.

If it were, the podium would be packed. People would be falling off the back of the stage. The medal company would have to work 24/7 to churn out all the blue ribbons.

If anybody has a right to complain, it's Cody Colchado Jr. Not only is he blind, but he is legally deaf too. I don't know him well but if he's like the rest of us, the 46-year-old Bakersfield native is not perfect and he's probably had his share of "why me" days.

His parents are Lupe and Cody Sr. Colchado's sister, Patty Yee, is married to local political consultant Jimmy Yee. Six years ago, the Foothill graduate earned a degree in physical education and is now working on his Ph.D. He lives in Linn, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley with Jolee, his wife of 18 years, and their two children, Tabatha, 15, and 7-year-old Cody III.

In 1980, Colchado was a junior at Foothill playing on the JV football team when he slammed the back of his head on one of those big nasty black sprinklers during practice. His helmet shattered and when he came to, the world was dark.

"Friends walked me to the locker room," Colchado said. "I couldn't find my locker."

After a stint at San Joaquin Hospital, Colchado transferred to the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA Medical Center. The diagnosis was retinitis pigmentosa Usher syndrome, type 2. This condition, which normally attacks people over 50, is characterized by deafness, night blindness and the loss of peripheral vision.

"It's like looking through a straw," Colchado said.

Athletic 17-year-old boys are not averse to toughing out injuries. Remarkably, the 5-foot-7-inch Colchado played center for Foothill his senior year relying on cues from other players to line up correctly. The team went to the valley finals, losing when the quarterback broke his collar bone partly because the coaching staff thought Colchado had missed a block.

"I felt badly and as if I were damaged goods," Colchado said. "I've used that to motivate me since. I believe in the saying, "Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it."

Yes, character has been revealed. Since high school (and there's been a lot of U-turns, including getting booted from college four times ) here's what Colchado has accomplished:

Five years ago, when he was three months away from earning his master's in kinesiology, Colchado went completely blind. He finished his degree anyway.

He recently won four bronze medals in the International Blind Sports Powerlifting and Bench Press World Championships. Colchado's record for the bench is 501 pounds. He was also the assistant coach for the team.

Colchado is a 19-time world champion powerlifter in both the blind and able-bodied divisions.

He won a national championship in CTF Tae Kwon Do Brick & Board events (he broke 10 boards simultaneously with his left and right hands).

Colchado is a three-time national champion in the pentathlon event in Track & Field for the Blind.

After one failed marriage, Colchado found Jolee, a special education teacher who he credits for believing in him even when he may have been floundering. He is one of the few to ever to speak at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths & Adults in Long Island.

Colchado gives more than 25 speeches a year as a motivational speaker.

"Ninety-four percent of people who are deaf and blind do not have a job," Colchado said. "Most of them are on SSI. Society does not make them feel like productive citizens and I didn't want to be like that." Colchado has spoken to the adaptive PE class at Bakersfield College taught by Kathy Moretti as well as the women's basketball team at BC coached by Paula Dahl.

"He's been an inspiration to a lot of folks," said his brother-in-law, Jimmy Yee. "Cody has never tried to look for a deal or promote his story. His family is quiet about his accomplishments."

Colchado has been offered a position in the fall teaching PE to high-risk high school students at South Texas College in McAllen. In the meantime, he helps raise his children and trains for power-lifting competitions.

"When I lift weights, I visualize all the people with disabilities who I've met over the years," Colchado said. "I hear their voices and they lift the bar with me."

He could complain. However, Colchado has chosen to sing life's praises. His mission is that others will join in the chorus.

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