Nothing stands in his way
Nothing has ever held back Cole Waddy.
He's always been an active kid who loves to play sports, excel in the classroom and volunteer his time to others in his community.
It came as a surprise to Waddy when he was told a couple of years ago he has autism. His parents withheld the diagnosis for years, not wanting their son to feel different or deterred by the news.
"I only see it as a setback," Waddy said. "It doesn't define who I am as a person. I don't let it define me or let anybody else define me by it."
Waddy, who wrapped his junior year at Spotsylvania (Va.), has had to battle all his life.
"I just kept focusing on myself and trying to make myself better and hopefully bring that out amongst others.”
"He ran into some situations at school where he was bullied and different things like that but he didn't let it affect him like some other kids would have," said Cole's father, Ben Waddy. "He kind of took it with a grain of salt and was like, ‘OK, if you don't like me, whatever."
Most of the teasing and bullying occurred when Waddy was in middle school. But that's a thing of the past. Waddy, who turned 17 on June 6, is all about living in the present. And he has a great outlook on life.
"I just didn't care what people thought of me," Waddy said. "I just kept focusing on myself and trying to make myself better and hopefully bring that out amongst others."
Sports have always been an outlet for Waddy. This past season, he competed in football, cross country, wrestling and track and field. He loves competing in team activities.
Waddy goes all out when he's playing.
"His work ethic is one of the best I've coached in the 15 years that I've been coaching," Spotsylvania cross country and track and field coach Charlie Sayers said. "He worked his butt off last summer, he went to a track camp. He came to our cross country runs and he ended up running on the cross country team and doing football at the same time, which is very hard to do."
Even though he went through a hard time with bullying, teachers and coaches love Waddy. He's always willing to go above and beyond what's required. When it came time to name captains in the spring for the track and field team, Sayers quickly thought of Waddy. It's not because Waddy has the most talent or is the star athlete, it's because he's a leader for his teammates and everyone follows his cues.
"When he's got his mind set on something, he will do it," Ben Waddy said.
For being a great role model for his fellow student-athletes and never letting anything or anyone stand in his way, Waddy was named Semper Fidelis Athlete of the Month, presented by the Marines.
He'll have the opportunity to attend the Battles Won Academy in Washington, D.C. this summer.
Growing up in rural Spotsylvania — where the area is known for its Civil War roots — Waddy lives on a 100-acre farm with his parents and four younger siblings. The farm life has taught Waddy so many valuable life lessons.
"I think the farm structure probably gave him a little sense of responsibility because we always preach to him that animals, they can't take care of themselves," Ben Waddy said. "That gives him the responsibility to know, hey, go feed these animals, walk them and clean their pens. It's non-stop life on the farm."
That responsibility aspect has carried over to school. Waddy holds a 3.95 grade point average and takes his education extremely seriously.
"I told him a long time ago, I said, ‘School is your job. When you're in school, I expect all A's and B's. Be the best you can be in that and then sports is kind of your passion,' " Ben Waddy said. "As long as you're doing that then you're good to go."
Waddy, whose given name is Thomas but he goes by his middle name Cole, loves competing in track and field.
"I feel a whole lot better about myself in track," Waddy said. "In football, I'm not that big and stuff and in wrestling cutting weight and all that isn't my game. Track, I feel like it's just me, the clock and competing. I just feel like alive in track."
He's honed in on trying to perfect the hurdles, both the 110- and 300-meter event. This spring, Waddy advanced to regionals and placed fifth in the hurdles. He had a personal-best time of 17.93 in the 110 hurdles.
"The best thing I like about track is I might not be the winner and I might not be the best but every time I go out there and compete, I always make improvements," Waddy said.
Sayers has coached him for three years and has watched him improve "tremendously" each season.
"He came in with a great work ethic to begin with but then he's just always improved — wanting to practice more, wanting to ask more questions about smaller and smaller things and more important technique of things," Sayers said. "He wants to be able to perfect everything. He's definitely improved and it's really all because of his work ethic at practice."
Waddy has tireless energy. That keeps him moving nonstop on the track. When he's not running the hurdles, he's wanting his coach to slot him into a relay.
This past year, Waddy also competed in football and wrestling. At 6-foot-1, 150 pounds, he is tall and slim. That can be tough in football but advantageous for wrestling. On the football team, Waddy was primarily a second-string defensive back/outside linebacker and for wrestling he was typically the starter at the 145-pound weight class.
"It doesn't matter what place I turn out in a tournament," Waddy said. "I just want to end with my hand raised in my last match."
One activity in school that Waddy has really latched onto is the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program. As a freshman he got a taste for it and has kept up in training for three years. Waddy receives lessons from former military members and has picked up plenty of useful lessons during his time in the program.
"It's taught me a lot of leadership skills and being a leader isn't easy," Waddy said.
Waddy has thought about attending a military school or enrolling in ROTC at whatever college he selects. He has also considered going into the Air Force and pursuing a career flying airplanes commercially and privately.
Outside of school, Waddy is a regular volunteer for such activities as helping at a Soap Box Derby in town or heading to the Dogwood Village of Orange County care facility to entertain elderly folks. Waddy, whose aunt works at the facility, loves serving food and providing company to the residents.
Each day Waddy shows he is a special kid who has so much desire to give up his time for others.
"It just makes me feel good knowing I'm able to help out with something or make a difference in somebody's day," Waddy said.