Shalondra Weatherton has repeatedly reminded her son, Cason, that their family doesn’t use that word.
It’s a common contraction people use numerous times every day. Nevertheless, no one is allowed to say it in Shalondra’s house.
Cason broke the rule a few weeks after he started powerlifting for Henderson High School.
He picked up the bench press and deadlift exercises with relative ease, but he was struggling to complete a single squat motion. He was determined to give the sport a try in the fall of his sophomore year, but that initial resolve was waning the more he faltered on the squat rack.
So Cason approached his mom and said that word.
“Mom, I can’t do it.”
Shalondra recognized her son was unsure of himself, suffering from a moment of doubt that sometimes seeped in whenever he tried a new sport. They’d had similar conversations when Cason graduated from playing soccer as a youngster to swinging a baseball bat and running the bases, or when he ventured into boxing. She needed to remind him again of her ultimate rule.
“Cason, you can do it,” Shalondra said. “We don’t use the word 'can’t' in our vocabulary. We’re just going to figure it out. Just try different ways and see what works best for you.”
With that, her son stepped back into the Henderson weight room the next day, determined once again to do on one leg what his peers have always done on two.
“My mom is my biggest motivator,” Cason said. “If I feel like I can’t do something, my mom is always telling me I can do it. She always says, ‘If you can’t, you never could.’ That stuck with me and I kept that in my mind.”
Cason Weatherton’s right leg was amputated at the hip when he was still in his mother’s womb.
He had Amniotic Band Syndrome, a rare condition where the inner membrane of the mother’s amniotic sac ruptures and the tissue wraps around the fetus. In this case, the bands wrapped around Cason’s leg, his right hand pinky and all the fingers on his left hand. The doctors conducted surgery when Shalondra was roughly eight months pregnant, cutting the bands and drafting skin to create a palm for Cason.
As a result, Cason was born without a leg, a right hand with half of a pinky and a left hand with two conjoined fingers. He had every excuse to shun an athletic career, yet by middle school he was a manager for the football team and lifting weights with the players.
After completing his freshman year entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cason and Shalondra approached Henderson powerlifting coach Kyle Farrell about joining the team. He began training for the upcoming season as a sophomore in the fall 2021 semester. While the Henderson football team practiced on the outdoor field for Friday night’s game, Cason worked in silence, lifting in the team’s weight room preparing for a meet months in advance that he wasn’t sure he’d be allowed to compete in.
Although Farrell let him join the team, he had some initial doubts.
At first, he assumed Cason would only be able to bench press at the meets. But once football season ended and he transitioned from his offensive coordinator position to powerlifting full time, he realized Cason’s hard work throughout the fall gave him a chance to compete in the deadlift and squat as well. The initial doubt dissolved.
“He doesn’t say no to anything and he finds a way to make it all work,” Farrell said. “So any doubt that I did have was quickly removed when I started working with him.”
Farrell said he was shocked with how easily Cason deadlifted, showing off remarkable balance on one leg honed throughout his childhood hopping down the base paths and boxing.
But squatting was a challenge.
Since Cason spent his active life on crutches, he at first lacked the upper body and shoulder mobility to put his arms behind the squat bar. Farrell put Cason on a stretching routine to develop flexibility in his upper body while helping him build strength in his leg so he could get to the required 90 degrees parallel on the squat. If he was going to do it, he would do it right.
“I didn’t want anybody to just kind of give him halfway credit for just even trying it,” Farrell said. “I wanted to be able to get him down to the same standards everyone else was doing.”
Cason started from square one and worked his way into a full powerlifting squat inch by inch. He began doing regular squats by himself before adding a weight bar, and then after that he started stacking more plates on the bar.
His powerlifting journey became an exercise in competing against himself, seeing how much weight he could add to the bar without worrying about the other athletes in his weight class who would obviously lift more with the benefit of two legs.
“He was never going to compete for a medal, he’s just not there,” Farrell said. “But every week it was a competition to (see), ‘Can I get a PR? Can I beat what I did last time?’ We ended up competing against his own numbers.”
Cason wasn’t focused on the other lifters. He had little chance of earning a medal in the meets. But he inadvertently became the main event every time he stepped to the bar. When he completed a lift, the crowd would erupt in the loudest applause of the day without fail. An introvert by nature, Cason said the raucous receptions from the parents and athletes helped bring him out of his comfort zone.
“When I had my first powerlifting meet I didn’t know there was going to be that many people there,” Cason said. “Everybody started clapping for me and I was surprised because I didn’t know everybody was watching me.”
When Cason and Farrell first started working together, Cason couldn’t even hold the bar behind his back, much less put any weight on it. He had nearly given up the lift before his mother reminded him not to use that word. In the final meet of the season, he hit a personal record with a 105-pound squat.
Cason had asked Farrell to join the powerlifting team, but with the season over it was now Farrell’s turn to ask Cason about a new venture.
Shalondra Weatherton didn’t get the answer she was expecting when Cason hopped in her car and she asked him how practice went.
“Well, they want me to do the shot put,” Cason said.
Farrell posted videos of Cason’s lifts on Twitter and Facebook throughout the powerlifting season, and they’d caught fire. The coach started fielding direct messages from numerous people involved in adaptive sports who informed him the UIL offered track and field events in the wheelchair division. Farrell had coached shot put and discus before he arrived at Henderson, so he asked Cason if he wanted to give the seated shot put a try.
Shalondra didn’t think it was feasible. For starters, track season was already halfway over and Farrell was tied up with the State powerlifting meet until March 26. Cason would have just a month to train full time with him before the Regional meet, and he had never thrown the shot put.
But as soon as Cason also expressed his doubt, Shalondra flashed back to the conversation they had during powerlifting season.
“I always tell him, ‘We don’t use can’t.’ So I can’t use it either,” Shalondra said.
And just like that, Cason picked up a new sport with the intention to qualify for the State meet in a month’s time. Unlike powerlifting, he had no experience with the shot put in middle school, and this time he didn’t have an entire semester to prepare for the moment. He was a beginner in every sense of the word.
“I really didn’t know how to hold the ball. At first I thought you threw it like a baseball,” Cason said. “I had to work on my technique and my flexibility, because I couldn’t really get my elbow all the way back”
Farrell knew the basic mechanics of shot and disc, so he was able to tell Cason not to throw it like a fastball. But throwing from a seated position required a variety of different techniques. The coach spent hours perusing YouTube videos looking for the right strategy, reached out to people who ran the Paralympic Games in Texas, and put Cason on a stretching band regimen so he could get his elbow all the way back behind his head.
Once they established Cason’s technique and throwing chair, the sophomore began competing at meets. Only he wasn’t actually competing against anyone yet. Since he was in the wheelchair division, his marks were simply recorded as he threw so that he could qualify for the Regional meet.
That changed on April 30. For the first time all season, Cason competed against another athlete, Jaxson Hubble from Canton High School. Cason qualified for State, but Hubble beat him out for first place at the regional.
“When he beat me it made me realize there’s other people competing too,” Cason said. “I was still working on it, so I knew I could get better. So it motivated me to get to my best point before State happened.”
Farrell saw through Cason’s stoic demeanor that the loss stung him. He now had two weeks to prepare for State.
He returned to the Henderson weight room, the same place he spent an entire semester working to join the powerlifting team. Only this time he wasn’t trying to hone his squat motion, he was hammering shoulder presses to increase his strength with the defeat fresh on his mind. He worked so hard, in fact, that he actually tweaked his shoulder and had to take two days off for recovery. After he was done in the weight room, he’d return home and work out before he’d go to bed.
Cason and Shalondra arrived in Austin for the State meet on May 13 with nearly 20 members of their extended family from the area in the stands. Cason had a clear goal in mind. He was going to get on the podium and beat out Hubble.
Shalondra was proud of her son’s mindset, but wanted to emphasize that he’d already achieved more than imagined. He had made it to State with only a month of training, so just being there was a victory in itself.
But this was a different conversation than Cason and Shalondra shared when he couldn’t get the squat motion down, or when he first mulled over whether or not to try shot put. The fear had evaporated, and that word was out of his vocabulary.
“Mom, I’m going to be on the podium.”
Cason had achieved half his goal with only two throwers remaining in the State meet.
He was one of the first to throw in the competition, and he had hit a personal record with a mark of 22’10.75”. It was nearly four feet longer than his throw at the regional meet. Cason was in first place, but the two throwers that remained were his biggest threats. One was Woodville senior Ke’Sean Paire, the heavy favorite to take gold. The other was Hubble, who beat Cason iat regionals.
Farrell set the stakes for Cason as the sophomore sat and watched.
“The good news is you’re on the podium, the bad news is I don’t know where you are on the podium,” Farrell said.
Paire, the reigning state champion, broke the state record with an astonishing throw of 28’2”. Now Cason was in second place with Hubble still left to throw. He was guaranteed a spot on the podium, but he hadn’t yet avenged his loss in the regional meet.
Hubble launched, and from where Farrell stood, in a #TeamCason shirt, he thought it looked short. It was, by four inches.
Cason won silver after only a month of training.
Cason is clear that he had nothing to do with the shirts. He was focused on setting personal records in the squat and qualifying for the State track meet.
“It kind of happened overnight,” Cason said. “I just woke up one day and my mom said, ‘We’re starting a brand.’ And I said ‘OK.’”
But Shalondra always knew Cason’s journey wasn’t just about the numbers he hit or the personal bests he set. His athletic career could have an impact on other people, teaching them to not let any limitations hold them back from pursuing their passion.
“I told him, ‘Cason, you’re such a motivator to people,’ Shalondra said. “And then it hit my brain, ‘I’m your motivation.’ I said, ‘You know what, we’re going to put that on a shirt.’”
So she and her brother, who lives in California, printed shirts with the words ‘I’m Your Motivation’ written across the chest in block letters. That way, the message could be seen everywhere, even by those who don’t have social media or are unfamiliar with Cason’s athletic accomplishments. Shalondra hopes these shirts can convince people who feel they can’t do something in their life to at least give it a try.
Because she and Cason don’t use that word, and look at all that’s happened when they removed it from their vocabulary.
“It’s important to tell his story to kids out there that are limited by whatever (it is) to know that you don’t have to be limited,” Farrell said. “You don’t have to have these excuses, the things that hold you back. If you really want to do something, you can find a way to get it done.”
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