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Purdue football fan inspired many during his short life

Tyler Trent
Tyler Trent

It’s never a good time to lose a loved one, but it seems like when it happens on or near a major holiday, it changes your viewpoint of that holiday every year thereafter.

I noticed that some local friends suffered holiday loss with the passing of their parents during the recent Christmas and New Years season. This weekend I’ll be attending a funeral visitation for the family of a good hometown friend.

My wife Deb and I have some bittersweet feelings when those holidays roll around. She lost her father, Herb Imming, on Dec. 26, 1999. The funeral for my mother, Mabel Jensen, was held on Christmas Eve in 1993.

Every New Years Day I go back in time to Jan. 1, 2011, when I saw my sister, Alice Lenning, take her final breaths in a Blue Springs, Missouri hospital after a long roller-coaster battle with breast cancer.

There was another notable death on Jan. 1 this year, with the passing of 20-year-old former Purdue University student Tyler Trent. Tyler didn’t grow up thinking he’d be a national celebrity, although he did have high aspirations as a budding sportswriter.

He had to withdraw from school as he was battling a third round of treatment. Tyler would have raised the scholarly image of our profession, as he first set off for Purdue on a Presidential Scholarship after scoring in the 1500s on his SATs, with 1600 being a perfect mark.

Tyler had his first encounter with bone cancer in 2014 in his arm. Treatment seemed to have put it in remission. But, before that fall of 2017 of his freshman year at Purdue, the cancer had returned, this time in his pelvis.

Tyler died just four days after serving as honorary captain of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. He had been a special guest on the sideline or in a stadium suite at several Purdue games after his story started getting around.

He was featured on ESPN’s College GameDay during the season and received the Disney Spirit Award at the College Football Hall of Fame in December. Colts owner Jim Irsey flew Tyler and his family to Nashville last week on a private jet so he could attend the Music City Bowl and cheer on his beloved Boilermakers.

Purdue lost the final game Tyler ever watched, 63-14. But the final score was much less important than Tyler’s lasting legacy. It was a story that began when the Lafayette newspaper did an interview with Tyler and a buddy camping out early to get a good seat in the student section for a home game. News of his cancer got out, and the team got interested in meeting him.

“Tyler made an impact on us, the community, the entire school and now the entire nation,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Tuesday in the Nashville Tennessean. “His strength has helped us overcome things along the way; to see how he’s handled himself with class, with dignity, with a great attitude, a great smile. We learned a lot from him. He got us to this point. He helped us win some games with the encouragement he provides and the love that he has for our team and university.”

Even when he knew the cancer was terminal, Tyler remained upbeat.

“Though I am in hospice care and have to wake up every morning knowing that the day might be my last, I still have a choice to make: to make that day the best it can be,” Tyler wrote in a guest column for the Indianapolis Star in early December. “Yet, isn’t that a choice we all have every day? After all, nobody knows the amount of days we have left. Some could say we are all in hospice to a certain degree.”

Indy Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel got to know Tyler very well over the past year. He wrote that Tyler’s fight and resolve to be optimistic were intoxicating. He wanted to make a difference, and in his short time with us, he certainly did.

Even as he battled osteosarcoma, Tyler thought of others, forming an organization called Teens With a Cause. It recruited kids to do service projects for families affected by cancer, such as raking leaves, shoveling snow and running errands.

Tyler also volunteered with the Purdue Dance Marathon, which raises money for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. He was one of the first osteosarcoma patients to donate tissue of his tumor for research.

“There are a lot of kids like me who no one will every know,” Tyler told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. “I don’t want there to be any more of them. I want to play a part in ending all of this.”

That’s why he kept fighting through terminal cancer. He was so tough, so mature and grateful as he faced the approaching end of his life.

Every time Jan. 1 rolls around and I get a little sad thinking of my sister, I’ll remember Tyler Trent to get a smile back on my face. That’s what he was best at, trading grins with people he met during his courageous journey through his time on earth.

Contact the writer:
Twitter: @larrypeterson
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