Frostproof Boy Doesn’t Let Condition Limit His Drive
by PAUL CATALA
photos by MICHAEL WILSON
If anyone thinks Mason Berry’s condition keeps him from doing what he loves, he has plenty of ways to show that simply isn’t true.
Mason was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect of the spine in which part of the spinal cord and its membranes are exposed through a gap in the backbone, often causing paralysis of the lower limbs. It affects about 166,000 people in the United States, according to the Spina Bifida Association.
Despite his condition, Mason, 11, has found ways to not only compete in agriculture-related activities and high school sports but also to win and place in both. He’s also managed to become a top scholar as a sixth-grader at Frostproof Middle-Senior High School, where he maintains straight A’s on his report card and has become one of his school’s most voracious readers, reading a school record of more than 7,500,000 words in 2022.
Outside of the classroom, Mason loves agriculture and sports. He first competed at the Polk County Youth Fair in Bartow in 2022, and again in 2023.
In 2022, from his wheelchair and representing 4-H, he placed third in the Youth Division, where he won first place in whip-popping. In cage judging, he won first with his birds Vanilla Ice and Blue Boy, which was named Reserve Grand Champion. He won the Poultry Showmanship award in the Youth Division with Vanilla Ice.
This year, his first representing his school’s FFA chapter, Mason moved up to the intermediate division and took part in hog showmanship, archery, and goat-tying, where he placed second in the adaptive division. He also competed in Market Hog Record Bookkeeping, which he won; whip-popping, where he took second in his division; and Poultry in Cage, where his bird, Iceman, placed first and was again Reserve Grand Champion. He ended up winning the intermediate division for Poultry Showmanship and made Polk County Youth Fair history as the first person to compete from a wheelchair as well as the first to win his division from a wheelchair, which earned him a standing ovation. He also competed in cage poultry and won his division for Poultry Showmanship.
In the hog sale, Mason and his hog Petunia broke a sales record of $42 per pound, part of his fundraising effort to buy adaptive equipment for himself to participate in sports at his school.
“Mason and I shared a hug when we realized Mason exceeded his fundraising goal and would have the funds he needed to start purchasing his adaptive equipment,” says Mary Frazier, a single mother-caregiver and Mason’s student-specific paraprofessional for eight years.
His victories and tenacity are the result of his personal drive.
“Sometimes people compare me to other people, but I’m adaptive and I’m only 11,” Mason says.
Mason was inspired to get involved with the Youth Fair by his older brother and sister, Austin and Kendalyn Spurlock. They both competed in archery, and that’s what Mason originally aimed to enter. That was until he was introduced to whip-popping, in which Mason has excelled despite having had more than 40 surgeries throughout his life and having to use a wheelchair. In 2022, he placed third in archery and made Polk County Youth Fair history for not only being the first person to compete in whip-popping from a wheelchair, but to also win his division from a wheelchair.
“He just has that drive and determination that anything is possible if you really want to do it, no matter your limitations; the only limit is the one that you put on yourself,” says Frazier. “One of the big things we talk about is that there’s no ‘disability in ability.’ Just because he has a disability doesn’t mean he can’t do a lot of things. I think a lot of times they see him in a wheelchair and they automatically think he can’t compete. Mason’s the type that he’s going to prove you wrong.”
Mason’s determination extends out of the show halls of ag competitions. He’s also on Frostproof’s track and field team, competing in adaptive shot put, javelin, and the 200-, 400- and 800-meter wheelchair race. He holds a total of four sixth-grade school records and one school record. Frazier says Mason’s goal is to hold all school records before he graduates. But it doesn’t stop there, either. He also participates in swimming, weightlifting, sled hockey, and water skiing. He’ll be participating in archery, swimming, and track and field this summer as a member of the Florida Adaptive Sports team in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Move United Nationals — the largest and longest-standing national sport championship event for adaptive athletes.
Mason considers his options for the future, saying he might breed chickens. Until then, he plans to continue sports and become a Paralympian gold medalist while still keeping his hand in agriculture.
He has one particular line of advice for those who may need motivation to accomplish their goals: “Get off your keesters and get going!”