Ayden Tadlock is your typical middle schooler, if there is such a thing.

He enjoys playing video games, especially Call of Duty and Fortnight; his favorite subject is Social Studies; and he likes to play basketball with his friends.

But Ayden is also somewhat extraordinary.

“He has this willingness to learn and play the game,” Edward Stone Middle School basketball coach Antonio Bailey said. “I wish half of students had his will to come out.”

The 4’ 1” point guard exudes a strong yet quiet enthusiasm for the game whether he’s playing on the court or watching from the sidelines between court time.

“I like getting points,” Ayden said when asked what he likes most about basketball, estimating he scores an average of four points per game.

He also plays good defense. He admits he finds guarding his opponent to be the most difficult thing about basketball, but Ayden never has been one to back down from a challenge, whether it’s guarding someone more than a head taller than him or learning to walk again.

Ayden was born with multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, a condition resulting in clubbed feet, shortened femur bones, and years spent wearing leg braces and using a walker in between corrective surgeries.

“We started everything when he was six days old,” his mother, Kailey Steele, said before ticking off a number of surgical procedures and tendon transfers her son underwent to improve his condition.

Through all the challenges he’s faced in life, he’s been able to push through and find the sunlight. and not just for himself, but he’s been able to bring sunlight to other people.

Ethan Steele

It was just four years ago that Ayden had to relearn to walk following one of the first surgeries he had at Shriners Children’s Hospital. Until that point, he had been arched forward, walking on his tippy toes.

Now, he walks — and runs — just fine.

“It was just amazing watching him (at games),” Steele said of her son.

Ayden long had wanted to play a sport, and this year was his first time playing on a team. He initially wanted to play football, but Steele was apprehensive about him playing such a high-contact sport. Coach Bailey offered up a compromise, asking Ayden to manage the team instead. Ayden accepted, dutifully carrying out his managerial responsibilities throughout the fall.

As football season came to a close, Ayden’s friends began looking toward basketball, and so did Ayden.

“My friends were playing basketball,” Ayden said. “I wasn’t nervous at all.”

Ayden credits his brother, Ethan, a Marine stationed in San Diego, for teaching him to never give up.

“He never gave up in bootcamp,” Ayden said. “He tried his hardest.”

Ethan said he’s strived to pass on to his little brothers the values instilled in him by the Marines, but he’s also drawn inspiration from Ayden during times of adversity.

“He’s just a kid pushing through so I try to stay positive,” Ethan said. “Throughout his whole life, he’s always had a positive outlook.”

Ethan remarked on how, even on restricted movement following surgeries, Ayden has always maintained his adventurous spirit. He recalled how, growing up, the two would find ways to make their own adventures, like when Ayden would ride on a trailer attached to a battery-powered ride-on car driven by Ethan.

“Through all the challenges he’s faced in life, he’s been able to push through and find the sunlight,” Ethan said. “And not just for himself, but he’s been able to bring sunlight to other people.”

Ethan’s recent move to nearly 2,000 miles away has been hard on Ayden, but the two stay close by playing Fortnight together and video chatting. Ayden was grateful that his brother was able to attend one of his basketball games before Ethan’s departure.

When Ayden grows up, he wants to join the military, following in the footsteps of his brother, as well as his great-uncle, who fought in the Korean War, and his grandfather, who also served in the military.

As for next year, he’s considering playing basketball again.

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