By Debbie Adams
If you spend too much time watching the news, you may conclude that there aren’t many really good people left in the world. I beg to differ. There are hard-working students with loving, supportive families, teachers who care deeply, and communities who rally around when there are challenges to overcome.
Case in point—Cadin Byrd, a senior at William Byrd High School, Class of 2023. Cadin has navigated his way through some serious challenges in his life with fortitude and determination, along with support from his parents, dedicated teachers, and a soccer coach and team at Roanoke College.
According to his mother, Terra Byrd, “Cadin has overcome many battles in life, but he doesn’t let that stop him; he has fought through every single one. Cadin and his twin sister Braelyn were born three months early and spent three months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) fighting for their lives.”
“In second grade, Cadin was diagnosed with Spastic Diplegia, which is extremely tight hamstrings,” his mother says. “He used to wear braces on his legs but was able to come out of them in ninth grade because he was doing so well. Although his legs have improved, they still get tired easily and hurt after spending long hours on them.”
That didn’t stop Cadin from wanting to join the marching band at William Byrd High School. (He began playing trombone in sixth grade with much encouragement from Denise Aspell, Director of Bands at William Byrd Middle School)
“Cadin expressed an interest in being a part of the marching band as an 8th grade student,” said Dan Plybon, Director of Bands at WBHS. “We felt that, given his physical challenges, the front ensemble would be a good place for him to participate.” Plybon and Marc Hinkle, another WBHS teacher with a music background, taught him how to play drums, afterschool.
“Cadin excelled immediately with the drums and cymbals!” Plybon says. “He has a great sense of timing that all percussion players must have in order to play well. Cadin displays a natural ability in the percussion section, and we have been so happy with him there. He continues to play the trombone in concert and symphonic band, but the front ensemble has been the best fit for him with marching band.”
“Cadin worked very hard with Mr. Plybon to learn the basics of percussion, and I got to work with him and the percussion section during marching band practices many times,” Aspell said. “I noticed how much Cadin enjoyed it and made a great group of friends there, too. It was great seeing how much his smile shined through especially during performances! We are so proud of him and love his family!”
That’s not the only challenge Cadin has overcome. His mother says that in 6th grade, Cadin was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer.
“That is when we were introduced to the Team Impact program and Roanoke College,” Byrd says.
Team Impact is a national non-profit organization that matches children facing serious illness and/or disability with college sports teams, creating a long-term, life-changing experience for everyone involved.
Byrd says the family didn’t connect with Roanoke College until Team Impact placed Cadin on their soccer team. However, “Cadin and our family have always been huge soccer fans. He is a Barcelona fan due to his favorite soccer player, Lionel Messi.”
“The coaches and past and present players are like family and continue to stay in our lives,” Byrd says. “Our family looks forward to going to every game. Head Coach Ryan Pflugrad is a wonderful person and looks at Cadin like his own son. Cadin has all of the jerseys and gear, just like all the other players on the team. Also, an award named after him hangs in the men’s locker room at Roanoke College. It’s the Most Valued Player Award, known as the Cadin Byrd Award.”
Pflugrad and the entire soccer program welcomed Cadin as the newest Maroon in September 2017 when he formally signed with the team. He had just gotten his hair back in and finished chemo. He was still doing radiation treatments for cancer that was left.
“Cadin was just a young man when he first joined the team. He was going through treatments and the stress that involves, but he has always maintained a positive attitude and great resilience, despite challenges he faced. He reminds us to have gratitude and not take anything for granted.”
“One of most special moments in my life and the lives of his soccer teammates was when Cadin announced to the team that he was cancer-free,” Pflugrad said. “We have been excited to work with him in the Team Impact program. We would have welcomed him anyway, but it was even more special because Cadin absolutely loves soccer and has so much knowledge about the sport.”
“Cadin is a special person to be around. He is a ‘man of few words,’ but I have watched him grow and mature and watched his great qualities develop exponentially. I can hardly believe he is a senior in high school. I am excited for his future and hope he comes to Roanoke College and remains ‘in and around the soccer program.'”
Byrd says, “Cadin and his twin sister are seniors this year, and after graduation, they both plan to attend Roanoke College. The school is very dear to our family.”
Coach Pflugrad says Cadin’s family is always thanking him and the soccer team for their impact on Cadin’s life, “but we thank them because Cadin has probably had a bigger impact on us than we have had on him.”
Former soccer player Sam Rauf was on the Maroons team with Cadin. In a blog entitled “What. A. Moment,” Rauf shared some of his thoughts about Cadin joining the team. “My favorite experience was not scoring a game-winning goal, beating school rivals, or even our team’s trip to Barcelona. Even though all those things were amazing, I got to experience something that went far beyond the game of soccer in meeting a then 11-year-old boy named Cadin.”
“Our first interactions with Cadin and his family came as he underwent the recruiting process, which included an official visit and tour of the college, an introduction to meet all the players, getting hooked up with some gear, and signing a letter of intent in front of the whole program,” Rauf said.
“Throughout his battles, Cadin had received a signed hat from Lionel Messi [a member of the Barcelona team] as an incredible gesture since Barcelona is Cadin’s favorite soccer team. I had thought celebrities such as Messi or other professional athletes giving back would be the only ones who could really impact someone in Cadin’s situation. I extremely underestimated the effect Cadin joining our team was going to have on me and how much impact the team was going to have on him.”
“As the season went on, Cadin’s presence became more and more mutually beneficial. He became the closest thing I have to a little brother. We had an awesome secret handshake; we would celebrate goals in practice; he would lead the team out on the field for our home games; he even traveled with us to some away games, and his family would invite us over to his house to play video games.” (The coach and team also traveled to Vinton to see Cadin perform with the Marching Terriers.)
Rauf says, “seeing Cadin became the best part of my and the team’s day. All of a sudden, this complete stranger, who was 7-10 years younger than the team, started to have an immense impact on all of us. Seeing him as he was going through his treatment brought inspiration to us to have zero excuses. If Cadin could go through everything he was and still come to practices and games to be with us, we had no reason to complain about tough classes we had or how late we were getting back to campus after a game.”
“Cadin would wear his Roanoke gear to his school, and his mom would always tell us how excited he was to come join us in whatever we were doing. Luckily, our experience with Cadin did not stop there. There is nothing that gives me goosebumps as quickly as remembering the day Cadin walked into our locker room and told us he was cancer free!”
“Getting to see that massive smile on his face and the relief his family had after getting to know them so well so quickly made everything soccer-related completely minuscule.”
The impact of the team on Cadin was immense as well. “As one of the last surgeries Cadin was going to have, he needed to get a port taken out by his heart that was used for injections of his treatment. On the day of his surgery, Cadin was rocking a Roanoke College soccer jersey so we could be with him. I think that says it all.”
Terra Byrd says band and soccer have become a big part of Cadin’s life, and “he enjoys every second of it. Everyone who comes in contact with him says that he has the best smile and attitude. I have had band kids tell me that when they see and talk to Cadin, it makes their day better.”
See, good people are out there meeting challenges and helping others beat challenges.