He begins, like any good storyteller, at the beginning, matter-of-factly stating that his biological father wanted his mother to have an abortion.
No emotion can be discerned from his inflection, not even a hint far below the surface. The calm, even, slightly hasty tone of fencer Cody Mattern's voice doesn't quite jibe with the events he is detailing. Barely pausing to take a breath, Mattern seemingly cannot stop the words, cannot stop the story. If not for the usage of the first-person pronoun, one might swear the experiences were not his own.
"I put a lot of barriers up," Mattern said. "I managed to not really think about it in any way that made me bitter about anything. It was very difficult because it was hard to become attached to people."
Those walls are almost palpable as he covers the bare bones of his early life: constant moving, little structured family life, confusion about his biological father, struggles with dyslexia that were compounded by each new school environment.
But a decade ago, the nomadic lifestyle vanished and Mattern suddenly had everything: a stable family that included his closest friend, a home in Metzger, Ore., home schooling from his adoptive mother -- and a sport in which he could succeed.
"They said, 'We want you,' " Mattern, 23, said. "They turned my best friend into my brother. It's more about the connection between the people than the blood in your veins."
The kid who could never make solid plans that included anyone in his ever-changing world could now draft a future. And, with bold strokes, Mattern quickly sketched in an Olympic trip.
Mattern will compete in the Athens Olympics this month as part of a young, up-and-coming team in a sport that barely registers on most Americans' radars. Fencing has been the dominion of Europeans for so long that the last American man to win an individual medal in Mattern's discipline, epee, was George Calnan, in 1928.
"Almost everybody who really made it had to overcome obstacles," Mattern's coach, Michael Marx, said. "I argue that it's those obstacles along the way that make you who you are. Some people those obstacles hinder them, some push them forward. Cody's a little bit of both."
By the time the Garcia family met Mattern, the middle schooler was struggling through yet another school system. The likable newcomer had impressed his teachers so much with his personality that they neglected to focus on his extraordinarily poor reading skills, prompting best friend and adoptive brother Ben Garcia to describe him as being "functionally illiterate" at that point in his life.
"It was very bad," adoptive mother Lynn Garcia said, while questioning her son's word choice. "[But] it's not as if he couldn't write his name or read 'See Dick and Jane run.' "
Concerned about her son's lack of progress in school, Mattern's birth mother allowed Cody to be tutored by Lynn. But, once again, multiple moves by Mattern's mother threatened the situation and the impending relocation of the Garcia family from Washington to Oregon could have ended it entirely. Fed up with new schools and new challenges, Mattern and his sister insisted on being home schooled by the Garcias. The pair would live in Metzger from Monday to Thursday, then would be sent to Mount St. Helens, Wash., to be with their birth mother for the weekends.
But the mother's rare appearances on these home stays caused a retreat deeper into the Garcia family, as finally the trips to Mount St. Helens all but disappeared. The travel and multiple families and uncertainty were gone.
"This was when I was tired of all this moving," Mattern said. "Why not try this home schooling thing? If I had control over what I was doing it couldn't be worse than what was already happening. . . . One of the best things they ever did was add an element of stability. . . . They allowed me to have that constant, that they were going to be around. They were also extremely supportive.
"Knowing I was going to have the same bed in the same place, I could learn the route. I was going to have the same people and friends in my life. I could really rest easy not worrying about packing my stuff in a box for the next place. It was a place I was going to stay a while."
But even after Mattern's life had settled into the routine of semi-normalcy, the surprises were far from over. On the way to the 1998 Junior Olympics, his birth mother shocked him by bringing in his biological father. A man that Mattern didn't even know existed until he was nearly 12 now wanted to be a part of his life. Mattern, neither welcoming nor hostile, traded e-mails with his father until he questioned some of the man's decisions, effectively ending the relationship.
Happy to surround himself with those who had supported him throughout his adolescent years, Mattern once again turned to his adoptive family, which was actively involved in his blossoming fencing career.
Mattern's odyssey of a childhood had prevented him from establishing himself in team sports. Once he settled down with the Garcias, however, he joined Ben Garcia and another friend in picking up fencing, an individual sport that relies on creativity and quick thought. Though a latecomer, Mattern pursued the sport with a single-minded focus and determination that has lifted him to the athletic pinnacle.
"You don't really realize that even in a competition that you didn't do very well, there was something you did well that you can remember and improve on," Mattern said. "I'm always looking to find the positive and not repeat mistakes."
Because of the open-skill nature of the sport, almost anyone can win any given competition, including the Olympics. Mattern won the silver medal in March at a World Cup event in Vancouver, marking him as a potential medalist in Athens. While facing five of the top 10 fencers in the world in a single day, Mattern earned the best-ever result for an American man at an epee Grand Prix World Cup event.
"He's been coming along pretty steadily in his technique, his training," Marx said. "There's a confidence part that has to hit you. . . . [In Vancouver], he drew strong fencers right from the top. He beat the world champion from last year. I think that got his confidence going."
In a mixture of lessons learned through fencing and lessons learned through life, Mattern has made great strides in the last five years in his views of the world and his sport.
"He still has a good sense of family," Marx said. "He appreciates family more than people might appreciate [their] family. His family's going to go watch him [in Athens]. Knowing his background, I think that's going to be a strong motivation for him."