GRAPEVINE -- Cody McCasland and Winter, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, share an unusual bond.
Cody, a 10-year-old Grapevine fourth-grader, was born without knees or tibias and now wears prosthetic legs.
When Winter was 2 months old, she became entangled in a crab trap line, losing her tail and two vertebrae. She now wears a man-made tail.
And, even more importantly, they both learned how to adapt and do something they love: swim.
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So, it seems only natural that Cody and Winter would become fast friends when they met in February during the filming of Dolphin Tale, the hit movie about Winter's amazing survival in which the Glenhope Elementary School student makes a 45-second cameo appearance.
"I like just being in the water," Cody said this week during swim practice at the Grapevine-Colleyville school district's Swim Center where he is a member of the Texas River Sharks, a competitive swim team. "She can swim without a tail, and that's amazing."
But Cody's family, and his coaches, say that he is equally remarkable.
Cody was born with sacral agenesis, a rare congenital condition in which the legs form without knees or tibias. He had surgery at 15 months to remove the lower part of both legs, and three months later he was fitted with the first of his 21 pairs of prosthetic legs.
While he is still young, Cody is well-known for his tenacity when dealing with his disability. He races wheelchairs and hand cycles, enjoys being a Cub Scout and has competed with his mother, Tina McCasland, in half-triathlons and in the Cowtown Marathon.
Cody is also well-known for his involvement with troops who return from Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees. He is a representative for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and works with his own Team Cody Foundation, which has raised almost $100,000 for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
But nothing has captured his imagination like swimming. On his 175-member team, with swimmers ranging in age from 5 through college, Cody is the only paraplegic swimmer whose ability to adapt is constantly on display.
"Cody has toughness, a good attitude, he never gives up," said his coach, Patrick Henry, who also coaches swimming at Coppell High School. "The beauty of him being in the water is, it's a balancing medium. It helps him maintain his balance even when he's out on land."
Cody does a mean butterfly stroke, his mother said. His strongest stroke is the backstroke.
"He has learned how to modify things and do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it," Tina McCasland said.
Last week Cody competed in his first paralympic swimming event in Santa Clara, Calif., winning second place in the 100-meter freestyle. His dream is to be a paralympic champion swimmer like Rudy Garcia-Tolsen, who has become a mentor. Cody wants to land a spot on the 2016 U.S. Paralympics team.
Winter got trapped in the crab trap in December 2005 in Mosquito Lagoon near Cape Canaveral, Fla., and has since been fitted with an industry-first prosthetic tail.
Her chances of survival were slim, but her rehabilitators were amazed at her energy and ability to adapt to her new physical circumstances.
A human prosthetics company, Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, teamed up with leading marine mammal veterinarian Mike Walsh to produce a workable, substitute tail for Winter, whose name came from the month in which she was rescued.
The process took months of therapy and training for Winter and a series of equipment refinements for the team. Out of the research came a more form-fitting gel sleeve called Winter's Gel that is helping human amputees returning from battle wear their own prosthetics more comfortably.
The dolphin wears the prosthetic tail for a few hours a day of exercise and play, and relies on her own method to get around the rest of the time.
Cody met Winter in February when the Challenged Athletes Foundation sent him to Florida to interact with Winter in the water. Footage of that session is included in the movie.
Then in May they renewed their interspecies friendship when Cody competed in a charity run to benefit both the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter lives.
Cody wouldn't mind being in more films, he said, since Dolphin Tale worked out well.
"The best part was getting to meet the dolphin again," said Cody, who got to walk the red carpet along with Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr . at the Hollywood premiere. "She even remembered me from before."
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657