I have a few things here I’ve been waiting ’til the new year to say — some reflections on the year behind and encouragement for the year ahead. But as a proud alumnus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, I wish to first expand upon the powerful example of fellow Boilermaker, Tyler Trent. His story has gone viral. His inspiration has been deep.
By now many have heard of Tyler… the smart young man diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 15 — after throwing a frisbee and breaking his arm. When his cancer was in remission, Tyler finished high school and was awarded a prestigious Presidential Scholarship to Purdue. Shortly thereafter, however, his cancer aggressively returned.
No matter the setback, Tyler was an enthusiastic, devoted Purdue fan. Head football coach Jeff Brohm noticed Tyler, got to know him, and made him an honorary captain his freshman year. His sophomore year, his cancer progressed, and he would have to drop out of school. Even so, Tyler maintained an active presence when physically possible, culminating in being wheeled in on the sidelines during ESPN’s featured Ohio State/Purdue football broadcast. Tyler had predicted a victory for his beloved, huge-underdog Purdue — and Purdue promptly, surprisingly played arguably their best game of the season, blowing out the #2 team in the country.
But the kind of person Tyler was, fans of all teams began to cheer him on — “Tyler Strong” was the frequent refrain. Tyler gained increasingly more attention as his so obvious humble spirit attracted more than an ego ever could. Fascinatingly, Tyler prayed a year ago that he would live to tell his story. And he did.
Tyler passed away in the dawn of New Year’s Day.
“Tyler Trent is the spirit of Purdue,” wrote Travis Miller, the Site Manager of “Hammer & Rails,” a Purdue-focused website. Wrote Miller:
“… When Purdue stunned Ohio State in October it was Tyler’s night. He nearly did not make it to that game, but I am convinced that the energy of that night lifted him these last two and a half months. It sustained him past what his doctors thought. Unfortunately, cancer sucks. Hard. Tyler fought, but now his fight is over.
In the last 15 months the nation has gotten to know Tyler. What amazed me throughout was that it was never about his own fight. When Tyler would tweet it would rarely be about his condition. He only gave updates when they were major, like when he was forced to withdraw from school. Instead, he wrote about about what he could do for others. Here was a young man that knew his time was limited, but he spent every second doing what he could for others. He inspired others. He encouraged others. He strengthened them. His upcoming book is about pulling off an upset of cancer even though it will not physically benefit him. He spoke of how he was encouraged that samples of his tumor might lead to a cure someday, ignoring that meant there was no cure yet for him.
I was always in awe of his humility and his desire to serve.
Mark 10:45 says: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ This is the example we are called to follow, and Tyler knew what it meant to serve…”
I think that’s what stands out to me about Tyler and why I wished to pause briefly and focus on him today.
It’s not just that the world felt sorry for this young man, dying in his perceived prime; it’s not that his story was so strikingly different than anyone else who has struggled with this awful disease. It’s that Tyler Trent maintained his humility; he embraced his faith; and he encouraged others all the while, never allowing his condition to compromise his conviction.
So many of us/me, we become self-focused… complaining or indignant when something doesn’t go our way… pointing fingers when we’re irritated, offended or when life just doesn’t go right. And yet here was Tyler, who had far more reason than most of us to be all of the above, but never allowed the focus to be about him. He never saw himself as a victim.
When given the Disney Spirit Award at the ESPN’S College Football awards in December and welcomed with an extended standing ovation, Tyler was asked what the moment meant to him. He mustered, “Moment undeserved.”
Asked then, also, what his message was to the millions who’ve been moved by his story, Tyler shared, “At the end of the day, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. As long as you rely on your faith, things will work out.”
That was only a few short weeks before he died.
So how do we honor Tyler Trent? How do we learn and grow from his example?
Let’s be humbler. Let’s be less self-focused. Let’s be more faithful.
And may we always remember what’s most important.
Respectfully… RIP Tyler…