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Every time I think my job can’t get any better, it somehow does. As the Community Relations Coordinator, I have the crazy privilege of meeting people, hearing their stories, and sharing them with you all. I’ve completed dozens of interviews around Allen County, and I leave every one smiling. Sometime throughout an interview, I always think to myself: “I want this person to be my best friend.”


Caidan Rodgers was no exception. We could have talked for hours – but he had to get back to class. Caidan is a Senior at Shawnee High School, and one of the most authentic 18-year-olds I’ve met. He told me about his life-changing surgery, what it was like to start at a new school, and how it feels to sit on the sidelines of a Shawnee football game.


Caidan started attending Shawnee in January of 2019. In the beginning, he was nervous. Now, almost one year later, he’s an integral part of Shawnee Athletics. “I hype the crowd and the boys up,” he told me. Caidan started as the football team manager after his friend, John Barker, asked him to do it.


“The boys wanted me to be a part of the team. It was amazing. The first game was lovely. They chanted my name. It was crazy. I remember dropping a tear,” Caidan recalled. He received an award for being the team manager, which shocked him.


I asked John Barker what prompted him to ask Caidan to be the team manager. John told me that everyone loves Caidan and when he’s around, everybody’s smiling. After meeting Caidan, I can attest to that.


Now that it’s basketball season, Caidan’s in a similar role. He travels with the basketball team and sits on the bench.


“We were thrilled to bring Caidan into our basketball program. He is our designated ‘hype man’ and gets our kids excited and ready to play. His personality is contagious. We are blessed to have Caidan involved in our program and welcome him into our Shawnee basketball family,” said coach Mark Triplett.


Caidan and I talked about Shawnee and sports for a while. He was glad to remind me that Shawnee just beat my alma mater, Elida, in basketball. Then Caidan asked if I’d like to hear the story of his surgery. Of course I said yes.


In 2014, Caidan was struggling to walk. “My legs were getting worse” he said, “I went to the doctor in Columbus, and they told my mom to put me in a wheelchair. She said ‘No. I’m not doing that. I want my son to walk.’” The doctor mentioned a surgery – Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy – and they decided to move forward with it. Caidan and his family flew to St. Paul, Minnesota for the surgery. Surgeons at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare opened his spine and cut into his nerves to release tension. Caidan was in the hospital for almost two months afterward, learning to sit, crawl, and walk again. His next big surgery was in 2015, also in St. Paul. This operation was on his legs, to turn his hip bones. Caidan paused after he told me this part, “I was like oh…I’m going to be a robot.”


After the surgery, Caidan had casts on his legs and a bar between his feet for six weeks. When the casts were removed, regaining his strength took a lot of hard work. He said he never gave up and just worked and worked. He had therapy daily, then four times a week, then three times a week…and so on. In January 2016, he started to walk a little. By May, he could walk well – and he couldn’t believe it. “I was so mad at my mom and dad for putting me through all that. Now, I can’t thank them enough. Everyone in my family – my mom, dad, sister, grandparents – we were a team. We all went through it together,” Caidan said.


“So your family is really your first team, and Shawnee is your second team?” I asked.


“Yes,” he answered. He told me he’s living the dream.


If you happen to be at a Shawnee boys’ basketball game this season, look for Caidan. You can’t miss his smile and love for the game.

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