Behind every great athlete is a team of supporters. Most often, they are parents who commit to driving to practices, to cheering through games, and to providing the financial backing for equipment and uniforms. Sometimes, parents even take on the role of coaching. Mike and Jodi Kadinger have held all of those roles while their son, Marcus, proved himself on the basketball court, the track, and the football field. As a one-handed player with an upper limb difference, it was a challenging journey. However, in the end, Marcus persevered and reached his goal of playing college basketball. In this interview, Jodi and Mike reflect back and share some insights into how to support and develop a gritty athlete no matter the odds.
What resources or organizations would you recommend to other parents who may have a child with a limb difference or another type of exceptionality?
Mike & Jodi: We went to Shriner’s for Marcus’ first prosthetic. We thought he would need it to learn to crawl, but he barely used it. We encouraged him to wear it in early elementary school. He would go off to school wearing it, but it kept coming home in his backpack. It just wasn’t for him at that time.
Later, when he got older and we were doing family activities like kayaking or he was weight lifting for school, he started to think of his prosthetic as a tool. Then, he would go to Shriner’s and ask them for a prosthetic for this or that. He owned it and wanted it to fit his need.
In his interview, Marcus mentioned struggling with developing his confidence and accepting his differences, how did you support him when his confidence faltered?
Mike: As he said, Marcus has always been his own worst critic. In eighth grade, he hit a rough patch. He was really down on himself. We would try to be positive, but we didn’t see things the same way as Marcus. We didn’t have one hand. It was then that I reached out to a friend, Kevin Monson. He has the same condition as Marcus. He was older, had a family, a career, and was an accomplished athlete. He had played football, basketball, and pitched in baseball. He was even a coach.
We let them have some time together. Kevin could talk about things we couldn’t. His best advice for Marcus was when he said, “The perceived disability that people see has become my greatest source of strength.”
Jodi: We tried to help him understand that everyone has differences and just that his difference was very visible. We all have things that we are passionate about and we find a way to do them. So we need to choose what we want to focus on. We don’t want to focus on what we can’t do, but what we want to do. We always told him, “We will figure it out. We will find a way.”
Marcus defined grit as “mental toughness” and talked about “getting through adverse situations and keeping your head held high.” How did you help Marcus develop his grittiness?
Mike: Basketball really brought it out in Marcus. He was always trying and playing hard to win. On the court, he learned that you have to do the little things right. You have to practice and put in the time.
During Marcus’ freshman year, I was the JV coach. The varsity team was horrible. The head coach brought up Marcus and another freshman to start. They got smoked. He wasn’t ready.
How did you teach him to deal with the failure?
Mike: After a game, I would ask him, “Are you getting better? Are you learning?” Then, I would tell him that you have to look for the little win within the loss. But a friend of mine who is a coach said it best, “We don’t lose. We either win or learn.”
What advice do you wish someone had shared with you when Marcus was young?
Mike: Expose them to as much as you can. When you introduce them to things they like, it builds their confidence. Help them find what they like. You usually like what you are good at.
Jodi: We didn’t focus on the fact that he doesn’t have a left hand. He is more like others, than not alike. Sometimes, parents go through a rough time. We just loved him. We knew he needed to live in this world and adapt because we knew the world was not going to change for him.
How would you define ability?
It is a set of skills and strengths that you have. Ability is the measurement of those of skills and strengths. You will be good at some things and not at others.
Post Interview Reflection:
After I hung up the phone with Mike and Jodi, I felt so grateful. They shared so many more insights into raising a child with a limb difference. However, it was their laughter and reassurance that made the journey feel possible, even special. Some of the questions I had were:
- How did you teach Marcus to tie his shoes?
- What did you do when people suggested he play soccer and not basketball?
- How do you feel about pirate books?
We chatted about the importance of finding role models for our children and new challenges in life as they become adults like dating, raising a family, and employment. But it was Mike saying, “We will talk again. Stay in touch,” that made feel like I knew who I could lean on when we hit a rough patch with Ian. Thank you, Mike and Jodi!