Cody Herard has found a competitive spirit and passion for tennis. He recently finished first in the state in tennis skills at the Maine Special Olympics, the second straight year he achieved that feat. Contributed photo

Cody Herard is 23 years old, a big fan of Celtics center Al Horford, and absolutely loves playing tennis. Cody is also autistic, but in no way does that dampen his competitive spirit or passion for tennis. We are all athletes, if we want to be.

“Right away, he was pretty good,” Cathy Herard, Cody’s mother, said. “He really seemed to take to it.”

Recently, Cody competed in the Maine Special Olympics tennis skills competition in Rockport. Cody was the top scorer among 96 athletes, and recorded perfect scores in four disciplines: forehand volley, backhand volley, service to the deuce court (the side of the court to the right of the player), and service to the ad court (left of the player). It was the second straight year in which Cody placed first in the state.

“He leans towards his backhand. He’s got a strong backhand,” Cathy said.

Cody Herard Contributed photo

Cody has taken part in Special Olympics for years, in track and field events, bowling, equestrian, and swimming. He took up tennis just a few years ago. Cathy noticed when Cody played tennis on the family’s Nintendo Wii, which requires players to hold the controller and mime the actual motions of playing tennis, his strokes looked fluid and natural.

“We were just looking for a good activity for him to do to stay active,” Cathy said.

Cody began taking tennis lessons with Judy Moore, who runs Tennis For Fun, a program for athletes with special needs. Every Friday in the summer, Cathy and Cody make the drive from their Waterville home to Belfast to take part in Tennis For Fun on the courts at Belfast City Park. The Herards moved to Waterville from Belfast last year. Cody graduated from Belfast Area High School in 2015.

“When I feel grumpy about driving to Belfast, I think, ‘OK, Judy, since you do this…'” Cathy said. “One thing I will say, when it comes to active things, (Cody) really enjoys tennis.”

That is obvious. As his mother talked about Cody’s exploits on the tennis court, he sat next to her and smiled. Athletes know when they’re good. Cody knows he’s good.

“He told us before we went (to Special Olympics), he wanted to win the gold medal. And he did,” Cathy said.

But he can be better. Cody tends to let play come to him, and waits for the ball.

“He needs some hustle. We’ve talked about that. I tell him, ‘You’ve got to run to the ball,'” Cathy said. She laughed. Tennis is a lifelong sport. There’s time to get better and time to simply enjoy playing.

Cody is competitive. Sometimes that gets the better of him, like when he gets frustrated watching the Celtics when they’re not playing well. At the Special Olympics, when he was announced as the winner, Cody jumped up in excitement. His hard work and practice had paid off.

“It was cool to see he grasps that,” Cathy said.

Tennis has been a spark for Cody socially, too.

“He really looks forward to seeing friends,” she said. “I see a difference in competitiveness and confidence. He works hard and enjoy activity.”

Next year, Special Olympics tennis will feature matches along with the skills competition. Cathy is looking forward to seeing how her son does in those. Cody is getting ready for those in matches against Moore.

There’s a competitive fire in every one of us, no matter the aptitudes or challenges life gives us. Cody Herard found his.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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