Tyler's Real Homecoming
Note: As I write, I am saddened for his family and friends…but am rejoicing that Tyler’s earthly suffering is over. His story, although he is gone from here, is still being written and its effects will be felt for long after today. I am positive I cannot do him justice, but feel compelled to try.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1Thes. 5:16-18
The tradition of college football “Homecoming” dates back to the early 1900s. An event centered around a football game, that’s really much greater than the game itself. Parades, meetings of old friends, parties, smiling faces…and hopefully a victory to top it all at the end of the festivities.
If you believe what I believe, Tyler Trent is now enjoying his real homecoming celebration.
Our friend Tyler passed away earlier today, after a five year brawl in which the deck was seemingly stacked. He was diagnosed with cancer at 15…fought it back time and again…celebrated his 20th birthday back in September of 2018…and inspired more people to live bigger, better, bolder lives in a matter of months, as he sprinted toward his real goal- a meeting with his Savior.
If you met Tyler, you saw what we saw- A man who always pointed attention away from himself as he suffered and fought…so the world was drawn to this unusual behavior. When we talked to him back in October, he wanted to talk about how the Boilers were playing, how we were all doing and did not mention his worsening condition. A week later, he and his family made the decision to withdraw from classes at Purdue, and get back to Carmel, Indiana so he could be under hospice care.
Kelly and Tony, his Mom and Dad, obviously taught him their faith and later about selflessness…and when things got worse, they were the ones administering care for their son in the final months of his life. They, along with Tyler’s younger brothers redesigned their home and their lives to make Tyler comfortable and to help him thrive from a wheelchair or a bed…but his hospital room/living room/command center became the epicenter of a movement and Tyler’s final ministry.
Most people are on their phones a lot…Tyler was a genius with his iphone X. Fielding calls from world leaders, pro athletes, entertainers, TV and radio personalities…he was always doing something big. Even in his final days, he was setting bigger goals and meeting them.
Cancer sucks, it tore Tyler’s body apart…but he used it for the benefit of others. Because of his tenacious fight, he became the face of Purdue’s Dance-a-thon, Riley’s Cancer Research and finally, ESPN’s Jimmy V fund. While many of us cried when they thought of what he, his parents, his family, friends and roommates were dealing with as his condition worsened, Tyler brought people together. We rallied around his positivity and selflessness and his encouragement caused some of you to do more than just shed tears. More importantly than money raised, Tyler helped change hearts and minds about faith.
His pals Ja’Whaun Bentley, David Blough and Coach Brohm saw him as a catalyst for their own faiths…others saw his attitude and pointing to God’s glory as a tangible reason to believe in the first place. In dying, Tyler helped others live for something more important than themselves…the legacy of this 20 year old is something I am positive that I have not established in my 43 years. Personally, his selfless fight and incredible perspective about life has strengthened my faith…I know I am blessed to have met him. I’m ecstatic that my kids got to see what real faith looks like.
If you tuned into Tyler’s story on TV and the web, you saw his physical condition worsen even as he flew to events to represent foundations and Purdue. When I asked him how he was doing, he answered, “Fantastic- how are you?” He knew that this life and the opportunities he had been given, even while in pain and unable to walk, were a blessing. He fought cancer, dying and pain like hell…while smiling.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2Tim 4:7
On homecoming weekends around the college football world, alums are welcomed home to good food, great parties and better friends…but even after a big win, we all have to leave. If you believe what Tyler believed as I do, you know he now is truly home to stay.
Tyler’s homecoming right now is indeed a party…The rushing of the field following Purdue’s 49-20 win over Ohio State was just a glimpse of the real joy he’s experiencing. The reconstructed hip is gone, the rest of his failing body has been replaced, the weather is perfect, the feast is incredible. He’s also getting to reunite with some old friends.
Save us a seat at the table, Tyler, we miss you already, brother.