I had read about Purdue University student Tyler Trent in Gregg Doyel’s moving columns in the Indianapolis Star and reached out to tell the young man that I admired his tenacity and courage. I had learned that he had wanted to be a sportswriter and knew we had that in common.
I told Tyler: Here’s my cell. If you ever want to talk basketball, feel free to text me.
When it’s late and it’s too quiet and you think no one else is awake, I bet I am.
For the next three months or so, we communicated almost every day. We started talking basketball — where could Jimmy Butler get traded and how his Pacers could challenge in the East — and it wasn’t long until we were discussing everything else. God, he would’ve been a remarkable writer.
He had such a curiosity, all the way until his final days. He listened to my podcast with Jeff Van Gundy two weeks ago, and wanted to understand more about how the G League and NBA worked together. I mean, of all the things to consider on your deathbed.
And yet, this was the beauty of Tyler Trent. This was one of the things he taught me — never stop dreaming, never lose hope, never stop moving forward. He wanted to be a sportswriter — or maybe work in analytics for a pro team, he told me — and that topic with JVG might been relevant to either occupation. A part of him was still preparing for one of those jobs. He knew he was dying soon, but Tyler looked at it this way: I am still living.
I traveled to Indiana to visit him in November. I sat next to his bed, and shared a lunch from Shapiro’s, the popular deli in Indianapolis. We talked about his childhood playing baseball and how he ended up at Purdue and what he wanted to do with his time left in this world. Suddenly, he was getting to connect with some famous people — the Vice President and MVP NFL quarterbacks and GMs and coaches and All-Americans. The world was finding him, and finding inspiration.
Still, this wasn’t fantasy camp for a dying young man. All of them — all of us — were part of his plan to change the world. The kid was determined to do just that from his hospice bed in his suburban Indianapolis home. The rest of us were becoming vehicles — Purdue football, SVP, all of them — to raise money to find a cure for pediatric cancer. More than that, though: Tyler wanted us to be kind and aware and responsive to the thousands and thousands of young people suffering from incurable cancers like he did.
“There are a lot of kids like me who no one will ever know,” Tyler told me that afternoon in Carmel, Indiana. “I don’t want there to be any more of them. I want to play a part in ending all of this.”
He’s raised millions through the Purdue Cancer Center. He’s partnered with The V Foundation. And he’ll raise tens of millions more in death.
His parents, Tony and Kelli, and brothers, Ethan and Blake, have been remarkable in so many ways, but none less than this one: When the family’s time left with Tyler became so precious, they refused to be selfish with him. They shared Tyler with the world. Someday, it could be the reason someone else doesn’t lose a brother, a son, a friend.
Tyler hadn’t been able to respond to text messages since Christmas Day. I asked his father, Tony, if there was anything I could do. He responded: “Pray.”
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer might have been coaching for the national championship next week, except he never stood a chance against the spirit of those Boilermakers and Tyler Trent on that October Saturday night in West Lafayette. “I didn’t have anything to do with winning the game,” Tyler told me later, but I didn’t believe him — and neither did those Boilermakers awarding him the game ball in the winning locker room.
Through absolute agony and anguish, that kid kept coming and coming. Doctors told him to leave school, go home and plan to die. He raged against it with every fiber of his body. He had work to do and he just needed a little time. Tyler Trent kept coming like no one I’ve ever met in sports. He fought until New Year’s Day, the very day that’s supposed to represent the hope and promise of what comes next.
I’ll miss reaching for my phone late at night thinking there could be a story — only to be relieved that it’s Tyler, that somehow he’s still going.
“Hey my brother! How are you?” he’d always start a conversation.
Tyler Trent accomplished everything he hoped to do in these final months and weeks and days, using sports for what these games do at their very best: Inspire us to unite over our common humanity, not scatter into our separate tribes.
After I got the call on Tuesday night that he had passed, I sent a final text to Tyler.
Rest in peace, my friend.
We will keep fighting for you.