Cody Williams’ life changed forever in a split-second in 2009, when he was a varsity football player at Santa Monica High School.
Under the lights of a Friday night game, the first of the season, the starting outside linebacker tackled the opposing team’s quarterback.
His face mask hit the quarterback's hip, and Cody's head jerked back. He went down. He couldn’t move.
Something was not right.
Williams was rushed off the field to UCLA Medical Center and into a nine-hour surgery. His neck was broken, and he paralyzed at the age of 16.
During 10 weeks of rehabilitation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — where he practiced sitting up, balancing and routine tasks — Cody learned he would never walk again.
"I've been dealt a bad hand. I've gone through a lot of tough things since then, but it's just all about staying positive and knowing it could be a lot worse," Cody told KTLA Wednesday. "It seems pretty easy to feel like your life is over, but you still have a whole life to live, and there's a lot you can do.
"It's just, never give up and always appreciate the life that you have," he said.
He was shocked and angry when he learned he was paralyzed, but it has motivated him to defy doctors' expectations, he states on his website.
While in rehab, Fridays were the hardest for Cody because it was game day, his mother Stacy Williams wrote on the Santa Monica High football team website.
"I rarely saw him cry, except for Friday nights when he wanted nothing more than to be out on that field with his team. He would have his friends on the telephone giving him a play by play description of what was happening," Stacy Williams wrote. "The phone calls always ended with them team chanting his name, 'Cody, Cody, Cody.' He was always so touched by this."
He spent several years in outpatient therapy at Northridge Medical Center, learning to walk using a standing frame and leg braces. He went on to graduate from high school in 2011, and a few months later spoke about his insistently positive attitude at the TedXYouth conference in Santa Monica.
Now 21, Cody has a new goal: to learn to drive a specialized vehicle with hand controls. He’s asking for donations to get that driver training and buy a pickup truck outfitted just for him.
He set up a GoFundMe fundraiser page -- called "Help Cody Drive" -- with the aim to bring in $30,000. It had brought in about $4,500 by Wednesday evening.
"I just thank them so much. Some of them I haven't spoken to in years," Cody said of his donors. "It's just a really big help."
He said he’s never before asked for financial support throughout his recovery.
“A spinal cord injury is one of the most expensive injuries and as an only child to a single mother, we've had our struggles, but we always pull through,” he writes on the GoFundMe page. “This is our first time asking for any type of help because expenses have really caught up to us.”
Stacy Williams said her son has been talking about being able to drive for some time.
"I admire him. I admire his will to achieve a goal that he's been talking about for a long time," Stacy Williams said.
Cody feels it wouldn't be fair to her to ask for her help paying for a specially equipped vehicle, but he wants to be able to get himself to the gym, and to Santa Monica College, where he is a student.
"The major goal is to walk, but between then, it's just being independent," he said.