In a tough sport like skateboarding, a local athlete hopes his story will inspire others to not give up on their dreams.
"It's a mental game, that's 90 per cent of skateboarding, it's like every other sport. It's a big, big mental game," said Cody French, a 24-year-old professional street skateboarder from Elora.
"Skateboarding is so muscle memory, once you do it, you have it. You just gotta do it, honestly, you can't give up," continues French. "You've just got to stay positive, because it's so frustrating. There will be times where I'm trying a trick for 10 hours straight, but I still won't give up."
French, who started skateboarding at the age of 10, has competed in tournaments across the country and in the United States. In 2020, he placed 16th in the Canadian Nationals Mens Street Semifinals. He hopes to get a spot on Team Canada and compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics.
"I grind rails and basically jump over stairs and stuff like that," said French. "I like to do a lot of spins on the rail, I like to do a trick, it's called a 3 Flip Lip (360 Flip Lipslide). Basically, the board spins 360 with a kick flip and then I land into a board slide on the rail. It looks really cool."
For French, the road to the Olympics has been a bumpy one. In 2021, he began experiencing health issues which first appeared on his birthday, March 24th.
"I was just super sick and then I ended up in the hospital, and I was in there for so long. I would be there for three weeks, then be out for a week, and then I was back in," said French.
While French has broken bones before, including shattering his hip in 2018, he said he never experienced anything as physically or mentally draining. In 21 days, he lost 60 pounds and became unable to walk.
With the help of his skateboarding sponsors, French was able to get a procedure which involved swallowing a small camera device to review the gastrointestinal tract. The procedure was done in June 2021 at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.
“I was honestly terrified. It wasn’t like swallowing a pill, it was big and that just honestly scared me. I thought if it got stuck anywhere in my body, they would have to cut me open on the spot," French said about the experience, comparing the camera to the size of his thumb.
A week after the procedure, French was told that he had up to eight ulcers in his stomach and small intestine. He was put on medication to treat the ulcers and his stomach, along with going on antidepressants. To this day, French said he still doesn't have a diagnosis for his condition.
"I’m still waiting. I’ve seen multiple specialists, but most of them can’t figure it out. I’m waiting to see another specialist so we can get to the bottom of this," said French.
“I’ve figured out how to cope with it, and the medication, it took me time to get used to it.”
He adds he is grateful for the support of his mother and younger sister while he was sick and his skateboard sponsors, who helped cover part of the medical expenses for the capsule endoscopy and his medication, which isn't covered under OHIP.
Despite the hardships, French is staying positive.
“All of this, even me waking up and being able to still skateboard, means the world," said French. "I just want to keep training every day, and work towards it and to travel to different competitions, to gain points, to make the team, I just never want to give up. My whole perspective on life has changed ever since I got sick.”
On the weekend of Aug. 19th, French will participate in Jackalope 2022, Canada's largest action sports festival that takes place in Montreal. The festival highlights athletes from sports like skateboarding, climbing and BMX.
"I'm a little nervous, because this is a big one and there's usually a lot of people there to watch," French said about the competition, which he has been training for the past two weeks. "I am an invited athlete, so I get to skip the qualifiers and go straight into the semi-finals."
"I've just been training everyday with certain tricks trying to keep them really consistent, and I'm just waiting for the course outline, and once I get the course outline, I'm going to see what tricks I can put together on that course outline, and then head out."
Residents can follow French on Instagram to see the rest of his skateboarding journey.