By Dillon Thomas
LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4) – A teenager at Chatfield High School in Littleton wouldn’t let his disability stop him from walking across the stage to accept his high school diploma this week.
Now, video of Carson Covey’s walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony at Red Rocks has gone viral.
Covey, a graduate of Chatfield High School, spent years going through surgeries and intense physical therapy because of his cerebral palsy, in order to walk across the Red Rocks Amphitheater stage to accept his diploma.
It happened only months after learning how to walk for the first time.
“I decided, two years ago, that my goal was to walk across the stage at graduation,” Covey told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas via a tablet that speaks for him. “I think I can do anything, when I set my mind to it.”
Covey never let his disability stop him from doing what he wanted. Covey met Chatfield High’s football coach, Bret McGatlin, when he signed up to take his weight training class. After a short time in the class, Covey approached McGatlin with an idea.
“He wanted to be part of the football team,” McGatlin said.
Covey had never walked before. Most of his life was spent either in a wheelchair, or in bed. Without the motorized wheelchair he owned, Covey would rely on caretakers, or friends, to help him go from place to place.
However, Covey never let cerebral palsy limit his involvement with his classmates.
“He was pretty active,” McGatlin said.
Covey was an unofficial assistant coach for the football team. As a team manager, Covey recorded and edited football practice and games. He also led the team on the field before every game, with Chatfield Charger flags draped from his wheelchair.
McGatlin said the team respected Covey, and his willingness to call players out for disapproved language.
“You would hear the buzz from his little wheelchair, and they would be doing pushups right away,” McGatlin said.
While he worked for the team, Covey spent his personal time working out.
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With the goal of walking at graduation, Covey enlisted the help of physical therapist Hank Schwartze.
“He was not ambulatory at that time,” Schwartze said.
Everyday, for two years, Covey worked out. Schwartze said there was often a lot of squats, and lifting weights.
“We had to work on everything,” Schwartze said.
In order to walk for the first time, Covey would have to use muscles he never had before.
Family told CBS4 that Schwartze donated his own money, and personal time, to make Covey’s dream of walking at graduation become a reality. Family said Schwartze helped fund the journey, and even helped purchase the walker Covey would ultimately rely on for stability.
In 2017, for the first time in his life, Covey took steps under his own power. The achievement served as inspiration for his classmates, especially those who took the field.
“He is putting in hundreds of hours, for him to only walk 50 feet, for one moment of time,” McGatlin said.
Schwartze said Covey gained strength every day. Days before graduation arrived, Covey and Schwartze went to Red Rocks to attempt walking the stage. After a few tries, they knew they were ready to make his dream a reality.
Days later, Covey’s name was announced before a crowd, who gave a standing ovation.
“The feel of anticipation quickly turned in to amazing,” Covey said.
“All the energy that was used to get across the stage, he did it himself.” Schwartze said.
Carson smiled, as he slowly walked across the stage without help from a person.
“He used every muscle in his body to make it happen,” Schwartze said.
Parents, students, and staff members cried, as Covey arrived to accept his diploma.
“(There was) not a dry eye in the place,” McGatlin said.
“(Covey) spent 18 years of his life getting ready for this moment. It is hard not to tear up,” Schwartze said.
After graduating, Covey was given a warm reception at his graduation party.
There, he told CBS4 that he wanted his example of determination to encourage others to pursue their dreams.
“If you want a goal, work at that goal. It may take you 15 years, at some point you will do it,” Covey said.
McGatlin said Covey’s presence would be missed at football practices and games. So, in hope that he would accept, Covey was offered an official assistant coaching position, which he was welcomed to accept next season.
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.