Football is a sport of hard knocks, but one fan’s battle has put all of the field-earned scars and struggles into perspective for the Boilermaker football team.
It all started with a tent pitched outside one of the least likely places on campus: Ross-Ade Stadium.
A Boilermaker super fan and Exponent sports writer, who admits he actually grew up an Indiana fan, was determined to sit, or stand, rather, in the front row of the Ross-Ade Brigade for Purdue’s match-up against the Michigan Wolverines. It was a level of fervor not seen from any Boiler football fan in quite some time.
It was the Purdue community’s first exposure to the resilient and enthusiastic mindset of sophomore Tyler Trent, who is studying computer and information technology with a concentration in business analytics.
Days before Trent set up camp, he had undergone a round of chemotherapy to treat a rare bone cancer known as osteosarcoma. But he and his friend Josh Seals were determined to not let that get in the way of their Purdue football fandom.
The rare cancer feeds off of its host’s bones, weakening them until they break under the pressure of simple, daily activities.
“It will eat at your bone, until literally either the tumor breaks it or you break it,” Trent said.
He first realized something was wrong when he broke his arm doing something he loved, playing ultimate Frisbee.
“Throwing that Frisbee was enough to snap my arm in half and break it,” he said.
Since that September day camping out, Trent has gone on to become a source of inspiration for the whole of Purdue athletics and the wider Boilermaker family.
Weeks after that game, he was named an honorary captain of the football team and appeared on the field for the coin toss in Purdue’s Hammer Down Cancer football game. He’s been appointed to the board of Purdue’s Cancer Center, given a speech at the Purdue University Dance Marathon, spoken to various University athletic teams and developed a substantial network of followers and supporters on Twitter.
Purdue quarterback David Blough experienced some adversity of his own this past season, suffering a catastrophic ankle injury that sidelined him for the second half of the season.
The recovery process entailed a mental battle that rivaled the complexities incurred from football itself, Blough told the Exponent at Sunday’s National Football Foundation Honors Dinner in West Lafayette — where both he and Trent received awards.
Trent received the Patrick Mackey Courage Award, and Blough was honored with the Citizenship Award.
“We made a lot of progress at one point, and then it kinda plateaued and it’s like, ‘Man, when are we going to get over the hump?’” he said.
Having Trent around, though, helped bring Blough back to earth on days when the road to recovery seemed particularly long.
“You sit there and you think, ‘Oh yeah, my ankle’s bad,’” Blough said. “And then you see people who go through what he goes through, fighting cancer for the third time. And he always has a positive attitude. Maybe my ankle’s not so bad.”
Trent has taken his new role as an inspiring figure in stride. Still, there are days his frustrations weigh on him.
Soon after the Purdue basketball team’s Big Ten tournament, he found out his cancer had returned.
“I was in a place where I was questioning what was going on,” he said.
His chemotherapy was going well at that point, and there were hopes that he would be truly healthy for the first time in four years.
His cancer had other plans.
“It was really difficult for me to come to terms with that,” Trent said. “But things have definitely gotten better over the last couple of weeks, just relying on the Lord instead of relying on myself to find peace in that.”
It’s thrown a kink in his summer plans as well. Before his cancer returned, Trent planned on an internship with British Petroleum in Chicago, an opportunity not afforded to many freshmen.
Unfortunately, his treatment schedule made it logistically impossible. Luckily, an opportunity popped up with the Indianapolis Colts, where he is working in data analytics.
His positive mindset baffles many, and Trent himself struggles to come up with a definite explanation.
When life becomes complicated, he said he tries to look at the big picture to keep him grounded. “Just realizing that whatever happens because of this, it’s going to come out for good, whether I see that now or not.”
Trent hopes to return to Purdue this fall, but that will ultimately depend on his health.
“Lord willing, but anything can happen,” he said.
In the meantime, he remains focused on helping others: “It’s not about me.”