I want to share something that I’ve been wrestling with ever since we found out on New Year’s Day that Tyler Trent had passed away: How do we honor the spirit of a fighter who will be remembered forever in West Lafayette?
We all know Tyler’s story. It felt like the whole world was mourning with the Trent family last Tuesday. It was devastating but heartwarming to see some of the pillars in sports and beyond — folks Tyler admired — share their messages of appreciation and condolences.
But that doesn’t feel like enough. Tyler was never satisfied with just talk, so why should we be? I think the greatest tribute to the lasting legacy left by Tyler Trent can be fulfilled, in part, by how we act every day.
Here’s what I learned from Tyler in the two years I knew him.
1. Care more for others than yourself
This lesson was in plain sight for the whole world to see. Tyler always thought more about others than about himself. When he was fighting his first round of cancer in high school, he saw how the stress of being in the hospital for long stretches of time affected his parents’ and brothers’ lives. They needed help at home taking care of daily tasks and he felt like his disease was becoming a burden.
He wasn’t able to do anything immediately, but after coming home he started an organization called Teens With a Cause to help families in the community that were dealing with similar difficult situations. He organized friends in Carmel, Indiana, in coordination with his local church to dispatch a group of volunteers to help families with whatever daily help they needed that day.
Tyler knew his story was powerful; he recognized that a long time ago. Long before people outside the Purdue community knew about his story, Tyler would speak at Purdue University Dance Marathon events to help raise money for cancer research.
He continued in the same vein as the audience grew and the lights shined brighter. Every T-shirt, book and foundation that he partnered with was in hopes of finding a cure for the disease that many kids around the world were fighting. He was thinking about those kids while he dealt with his own struggle every day.
That’s the sort of person Tyler was.
2. Always follow through
Even after the cancer returned and Tyler was back home in Carmel this past fall, he followed through on promises he had made. He told his friends that he’d take them to a Colts game and he made sure that happened as Indianapolis began its run towards the playoffs.
When Tyler joined the sports desk at The Exponent in the spring of 2018, he knew that with such a small staff, he was going to be counted on to deliver. Even on days that he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t come into the office, Tyler never backed out of writing stories. He would email in the stories he’d written to make sure he was fulfilling his responsibilities.
He took that same diligence to his columns for the Indianapolis Star, letting readers into the realities of his hospice care. His ability to thoughtfully explain the difficult topics of death, hospice and how to live life to the fullest will forever be ingrained in our minds thanks to his writing.
3. Never give up
Friday marked the four-year anniversary of ESPN anchor and journalist Stuart Scott’s passing so I’ll simply repeat what he said so eloquently: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
Tyler believed this to his core — that I don’t have a doubt about.
Tyler had the courage to be vulnerable in front of the whole country and share his story even as his health deteriorated. He chose to live his life under a spotlight so that somewhere down the line another kid wouldn’t have to face the same struggles he did. The attention Tyler brought to pediatric cancer research might only be measured in dollar amounts for now, but it could be counted in lives saved in the future.
The greatest Boilermaker I know wasn’t even supposed to be a Boilermaker. Tyler Trent had his heart set on going to North Carolina State. A series of events that culminated with his cancer returning for a second time — in his hip and pelvis — forced him to consider staying in state for college. He chose Purdue, in part, because he fondly remembered the memories of going to games with his dad, Tony, at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The greatest Boilermaker I know brought Ross-Ade to its feet without ever scoring a single point. His voice echoing from the video board in the South end zone, instructing fans to do the Iowa Wave during Purdue’s upset over the Hawkeyes this fall, will forever be etched in the memory of those in attendance.
Ross-Ade was a special place for Tyler. It was where he camped out before the Michigan game two seasons ago, weathering the stiff heat in a tent outside Gate E. You know the rest of that story…
I believe that if we can follow some of the lessons Tyler taught me and this community, that would be an appropriate way to honor him. However, there should be a permanent fixture of some kind on campus, maybe at the Gate E student entrance, to ensure that generations to come can remember and learn about one of the most influential Boilermakers to ever call West Lafayette home.
There’s a favorite phrase coaches, TV analysts and even fans love to spout in March when the NCAA Tournament gets underway: “Win or go home.” In Tyler’s story, it’s incorrect.
Tyler managed to do something different: win and go home. The 20-year-old is in a better place now and he absolutely won at life. I only wish he was here a bit longer so he could show us his winning magic a few more times.
You can reach Atreya Verma via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @atreya_verma.