Andrews resident figures out his own way to get things done

Cody Chesterman climbs on his four-wheeler, equipped with a blade so he can plow snow for hire this winter.
Cody Chesterman climbs on his four-wheeler, equipped with a blade so he can plow snow for hire this winter. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally publislhed Jan. 3, 2013.

Cody Chesterman has always been the kind of kid who was going to make it no matter what.

"If he gets something set in his mind, he'll get it done," says his mom, Donna Chesterman.

If he finds the conventional route unworkable, he'll find an unconventional route. A set of legs that don't work the way they're supposed to, making mobility a challenge, don't slow him down.

"I've figured out a way to get through it," the 19-year-old Andrews resident says.

An outsized garage behind his home houses a three-wheel moped, a successor to the golf cart he previously used to tool around in, and his latest "toy," a four-wheeler outfitted with a snow blade that Chesterman planned to put into action after a post-Christmas snowfall.

Off-road, he's employed, in succession, a walker, a manual wheelchair and an adjustable power chair - purchased and customized for him by Huntington County HELP - to get him from place to place.

The power chair, given to Chesterman in June 2011, helped him navigate the long hallways of Huntington North High School. It was a chore that, when using a manual chair, left him drained.

"There's seven classes in a day," he says. "If I started out at 7 a.m., by noon or 1 o'clock I was exhausted. I was starting to wear out the rotator cuffs in my shoulders. It's not a workout; it's physical abuse on the body. I couldn't do it any longer."

That's when Huntington County HELP came into the picture. Although the organization has been providing assistance to local residents with disabilities for at least 25 years, neither Donna nor Cody Chesterman was aware of its existence.

"I didn't have any clue about the organization," Chesterman says. "How many more people out there are like me?"

The Chestermans made the connection through Judy Niederman, who has been directing Chesterman's physical therapy since he started attending Kids Kampus when he was a year and a half old.

The therapy eased the stiffness in his legs and knees caused by cerebral palsy, and Chesterman was eventually able to defy doctors' predictions that he would never walk.

But his gait is awkward and his muscles tend to cramp, affecting his balance, making some sort of assistance a necessity.

"She (Niederman) got things in process, and three months later, he had a wheelchair," Donna Chesterman says.

The chair was customized for Chesterman's needs, including the addition of an eight-inch lift that makes it possible for him to use the bar-height tables in some HNHS classrooms as well as the taller tables and desks he expects to encounter in college.

"It made school a lot easier," Chesterman says.

He used the chair to get from classroom to classroom, then parked it outside the classroom door and walked into class. Using the chair all day, he explains, would cause his legs to become stiff and negate the benefits of physical therapy.

Chesterman graduated from HNHS on Dec. 11, an accomplishment he says was "a little bit late, but only by a few months ... because of a multitude of different things" including the death of his father.

His dad, Derek Chesterman, became seriously ill about a year ago, and Chesterman eventually decided to stay home to help his mom and spend time with his dad rather than go to school. His dad died in March.
"I just kind of stuck around at home," he says, to spend time with his dad. "You don't get that time back."

His dad, who had worked locally as a DJ, sparked an interest in broadcasting in Chesterman - an interest that was nurtured when Chesterman found out that HNHS had a student-operated radio station.

"Everybody talked about this goofy teacher that everybody liked," Chesterman says. "It turned out he taught radio."
Chesterman worked with the "goofy teacher," Nick Altman, and WVSH for three years.

"I couldn't be involved in sports in the physical sense, so I found another way," he notes.

During his time at WVSH, Chesterman worked as a studio operator for sports broadcasts, hosted shows and did "normal jock stuff" including live interviews - most notably with Ron Shirley of "Lizard Lick Towing," a reality show that airs on truTV.

In the fall of 2011, he talked his way into an internship with Federated Media, which operates several radio stations in the Fort Wayne area.

Now he's looking at broadcasting as a possible career as well as "exploring some self-employment opportunities" including plowing snow for hire, a business he learned while working with his dad and uncle. He's been accepted at Valparaiso University, he says, but thinks that's a little too far away; he's currently looking at the communication and journalism program at Manchester University.

Working in radio is "not something everybody can do," Chesterman says; but it's a profession tailor-made for his verbal skills and outgoing personality. "I can do this, but many people can't."

Complete caption: Cody Chesterman climbs on his four-wheeler, equipped with a blade so he can plow snow for hire this winter. He says that’s one of the self-employment options he’s considering after graduating from Huntington North High School, where getting around was made easier by a power wheelchair he received from Huntington County HELP.