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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Superstar Spirit

By Mason Edwards, Rising Rock Media

Caleb Cochran advances to second base alongside his dad Kenneth Cochran and their dog Rey Cochran. Saturday, October 28, 2023. (Photo by Noah Camacho)

Among the dozens of Miracle League batters calling their shots, hyping up the crowds and dancing their way to home plate, only grand slams could compete with the superstar catcher duo: Caleb Cochran, 18, and his service dog, Rey.

Whether behind home plate or in the outfield, the two caught every passing ball. The duo’s fielding percentage would smash those of the best Gold Glovers. As soon as Caleb let Rey’s leash fly, she knew to run after the balls and return them to him.

A two-year-old poodle and golden retriever mix, Rey serves as an essential part of Caleb’s impressive journey from a rare diagnosis to hard-earned success. When Caleb was four years old, his parents learned he has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic condition that weakens his muscles–including his heart and lungs– over time. 

“It’s progressed [since then,] but I am doing much better than other kids that have it,” Caleb Cochran said. “Most of them can’t walk after a while.”

Despite the news, Caleb’s spirit never wavered and his doctors give good reports. Even though he’s in pain most of the time, he channels his energy into working harder than any of his peers– according to his father, Kenneth Cochran.

“He was reading Lord of the Rings when he was eight years old,” his father shared proudly. 

Caleb particularly excels academically, having completed dual enrollment classes while in high school. His mother, Shannon, said she’ll never forget watching her son walk across the stage to receive his diploma.

“It was just the best day ever,” Shannon Cochran said. “Everything is a little bit sweeter, a little bit more special, because somebody really, really had to struggle and work hard, and they conquered it.”

After graduating from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School, Caleb is three courses away from completing his college education in computer forensics at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

“I have an interview already,” Caleb Cochran shared. “Unum, the same [place] my dad works at.”

In his free time, Caleb’s interests and hobbies include a profound love for Legos, with an entire wall dedicated to Lego Star Wars creations. Watching nearly every movie and TV series, his passion for Star Wars extends to how he named his dog and can be heard on the field through his “The Mandalorian” walk-up song by Ludwig Göransson. Another love, video games, began with Lego Star Wars and evolved into a lifelong passion. 

“He’s really good at it,” Kenneth Cochran added. “He’s also into retro gaming. He likes collecting old game consoles and all the handhelds…”

Since age 7, Caleb has spent his spring and fall weekends playing baseball with the Miracle League, first in Florida and then later in Chattanooga. He remembers his introduction to the sport: watching a Pensacola Blue Wahoos game.

“I enjoy watching [baseball,]” he explained. “One time, there was a special event where they let someone with a disability throw the ball. I enjoyed that a lot.”

As Caleb loses more mobility each day, his service dog learns more ways to help his daily and recreational needs. She can pick up items off the floor, turn on light switches and open handicapped-accessible doors. Rey also provides deep pressure therapy to help with Caleb’s social anxiety.

“She’ll come and place her torso in his lap, and she does it on cue,” said Kenneth Cochran. “It’s a lifelong process… whatever Caleb needs going forward.”

For example, his father said that Caleb might need help with reaching his dresser drawers, and  if so, they could train Rey to pull ropes attached to the drawers’ handles.

“She helps me open doors, [and is] being trained to help me stand up if I have trouble and balance me,” Caleb said. “I often play catcher since my service dog is trained to catch the ball.”

Unlike other high-profile players, Rey stayed after the game’s final inning to receive head scratches and warm pets from both teams. A fitting end to a perfect game, the players lit up in happiness at a chance to get a special kind of autograph from the service dog: a happy, loving lick.

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