Over the years, I’ve noticed that people walk through my life with purpose, but that purpose isn’t always immediately obvious. Often, I must wait until the person is a memory before I understand their role in my journey.
I met Ty only once and more than a year ago, during the final day of the state wrestling tournament in 2017. My son was wrestling for a championship that afternoon, so I was more distracted than usual with emotion, family and friends. I was much too preoccupied with my own thoughts to meet someone new and interesting who could teach me something. At least, that’s what I thought.
Ty and I were in the handicapped section, since neither of us was good with stairs. Since each ticketholder is limited to one companion seat, handicapped seating in arenas can be lonely, if you’re not open to meeting other people. If demand is high, they kick out the companions, leaving the ticketholder surrounded by strangers. That happened to me for the semi-finals the night before. Fortunately, they didn’t kick out my companion, my dad, that day. While the rest of my family and friends were in another section, I was left with my dad and Ty to experience a day I’ll never forget.
While I use my wheelchair to make long treks more comfortable and convenient, Ty was confined to an electric wheelchair. I soon learned that muscular dystrophy put Ty in the chair, and that it was a progressive disease. He wasn’t shy about sharing this with me, and he didn’t tell me that to get sympathy.
You don’t find a lot of vanity or self-pity in the handicapped section. Most of us are beyond that. Ty was way beyond that. He freely shared his life story with me and my dad, but not in an uncomfortable or intrusive way. In fact, the chair and his health challenges were a small part of our conversation. He mostly talked about his love of wrestling, racing, hunting and fishing, and he did it with a genuine smile and passion.
He had an eager audience in my father and me, since we shared many of the same passions, and our conversation was a welcome diversion from the nervous anticipation of my son’s upcoming match. By the time my son was on the mat, I considered Ty a friend. He was among the first to congratulate me when my son won the championship that afternoon.
Before we parted, we became Facebook friends. I was eager to follow his hunting and other adventures, and was able to do that over the next several months. He had a girlfriend, job and zest for life that might surprise those who didn’t know him. In contrast to some able-bodied people on social media, I never saw him complain or feel sorry for himself.
Last month, it occurred to me that turkey hunting season had begun, and I hadn’t seen any of Ty’s hunting posts. During last year’s turkey season, he documented the many hours he spent in a blind in his quest to bag a turkey, and by doing so, he made me feel a little guilty about my impatience in my own turkey hunting. I assumed that he was hunting hard again, and that I had just missed his updates.
Unfortunately, I didn’t miss his updates. When I went to his Facebook page, I learned that he was killed in a car accident earlier this year. I was sad that his journey was cut short, but thankful for the afternoon we spent together and the way his memory helped me that day.
I discovered Ty’s fate in the middle of a challenging week that saw me lose two big recruiting deals and knock another hole in my drywall with a fall in the bathroom. The stench of bad luck seemed to stick with me no matter how hard I tried to scrub it off, and that had me feeling a little down and defeated
Though I didn’t know it, my subconscious told me that I needed to think of Ty that week, especially his tenacity and positive attitude, even when things were tough. How foolish I would feel and how small my problems would seem if we were back in section 109 in the CenturyLink Center, and I was trying to tell Ty how my week was going.
I didn’t expect a chance meeting to help me deal with challenges fifteen months later, but it did. Life can be amazing like that, if we pay attention.