Tyler Wilkinson, motivational speaker and Caleb Brower.
Tyler Wilkinson spoke to Emery County audiences at Emery High and the Emery County Business Chamber lunch. Wilkinson is from St. George and was injured in a vehicle accident in 1991. He was paralyzed from the neck down in the accident. Wilkinson was a star athlete in three sports at Dixie High where he was a senior at the time of his accident.
Wilkinson told the students at Emery High of his physical limitations. He no longer has stomach muscles, leg muscles or biceps. For eight years he couldn't drive and depended on others for transportation. He has now learned to drive a specially equipped van with hand controls. He told the story of one time he had to speak in Las Vegas. He had a couple of his friends with him, one who lived in Vegas. This friend picked them up after his speaking engagement and decided they would go ride the roller coaster at the Stratasphere. "I had never done anything like that before. But we rode up the elevator and got in the back of the line. When the attendant saw us back there he came back and brought us to the front of the line. Everyone in line was watching us, and probably thinking, hmmm this will be interesting, let's watch and see what happens to him. We wheeled to the front. I was watching how everyone was strapped in. I told my friends to put me in the seat one seat from the end. One friend would be on one side and one friend on the other. I told them to loop their leg around mine to hold my leg down and support me across the back with one of their arms. I suddenly remembered as we were released and rocketed into the air, that my body doesn't regulate my blood pressure very well. I felt like I was going to black out. We picked up speed and all of a sudden my toes were flying up above my head. We went down and back up again and this happened three or four times. Obviously my buddies were more worried about themselves than me. People were laughing. My buddies wanted to go look at the photos, but I told them no we're getting out of here. People were either gawking openly at us, or trying to look the other way and pretend they hadn't seen me. But, one guy was laughing and said, 'you should have seen your legs,' I remarked that's all I could see.
"We got out of there and went out to my van and it wasn't there. My van had been stolen while we were on the roller coaster. I couldn't believe it. The police came and we reported that my van was stolen and they confirmed, yea it was stolen. We called my friend's brother to pick us up. That night as I was lying in bed, I kept going over the events of the day. I kept thinking, wow, that ride was awesome, then I would think, someone stole my van. Then I would think, wow that ride was awesome, and then I would think, someone stole my van. This went on and on. Then I thought, every day there are things like that, that don't go right and every day there are wonderful rides and blessings. This applies to everyone.
"Eight years before this night on the roller coaster, I had signed a letter of intent to play football and baseball at college. My girlfriend Jennifer danced on the drill team. She had a competition and I jumped in the truck and headed up there. I was going to drop off some things for my father's business. Just outside of Fillmore, I woke up to find the right side of my truck was headed off the road. I didn't have time to react, I said a quick prayer, please let everything be alright, my left tire hit the edge of the road and I flipped upside down. The roof caved in, the truck rolled and stopped. I was suspended by my seat belt. I was stuck suspended in the air. A truck driver had seen the accident and he called it in. The fire department arrived and cut me out. I was life flighted. I spent three months in the intensive care unit and six months in rehab. I couldn't move my head for a month and a half. I was fed through a tube. It was rough.
"My physical therapy started the Monday after my accident. I would work, and work, and work and there was no progress. It got discouraging. I got to where I could slowly move my wheelchair forward. I slowly learned to hold myself up in my chair. I learned to feed myself. They would put my arm on a bungee strap and strap my fork to my hand and I was supposed to feed myself. I stabbed myself in the eye more than once.
"In high school, I wasn't arrogant, but I was comfortable with who I was and then, bam, I was paralyzed. I was extremely insecure. People went from saying, 'Tyler has so much going for him, I'd like to be in Tyler's shoes;' to feeling sorry for me. It was a huge change to go from that to being paralyzed. I couldn't even feed myself, I was so embarrassed.
"My mom decided she was going to take me to the cafeteria. I couldn't stand to be in that cafeteria with all those people so I asked if we could eat out on the patio. So she wheels me out onto the patio and leaves me there while she goes to get something. I lost my balance and fell over into my food. The mashed potatoes smelled good. People were looking out the window at me. Inside, I felt horrible. When my mom got back I told her I am never going to that cafeteria again. The next day my mom wheeled me back to the cafeteria to eat. I am grateful my mom took me to the cafeteria. Grateful my friends took me to ball games. I told them I wouldn't go to the college dance with them, but I did and I had a good time. I am glad I went, but I was scared. You need to get out of your comfort zones. People force us out of our comfort zones, our bosses, our teachers. It comes down to you. Will you push yourself out of your comfort zone. The first time I spoke was at my high school graduation. Someone in our community flew me home for graduation and then back to the rehab. I was scared to speak at my graduation, but I have probably spoke 1,000 times since. I am glad I didn't say no at graduation and other times. It's been a real benefit to me.
"I began progressing slowly. I got to where I could sit up. My back muscles and stomach muscles don't work. My therapist would ask me to sit up in my chair. He would ask me to push my chair. It was exhausting. The first day, I barely moved. The next day I went five feet. I got to where I could push it 50 feet. My life consisted of my hospital room, the cafeteria and the rehab. Every weekend, my girlfriend Jennifer would either drive up or fly-up to be with me. She made a big deal out of every little thing, every accomplishment. She could see the progress and was grateful for it. I would work hard all week long just so I could impress Jennifer on the weekend. I had a plan to sneak out to the hospital parking lot. I worked hard all week with my dad on my plan and practiced it. When the weekend comes, we are in the lobby with Jennifer and she was talking to my mom, so I think this is my chance to sneak away. I get to the automatic doors and they open. I wheel outside, but the thing I didn't figure on was the tail wind that started pushing my chair. I grab my chair to slow down, but it doesn't slow down. The skin on my hands starts tearing. I know I'm not going to make the turn. Anyone can face plant off the curb, but only the few and the proud can pop a wheelie off the curb. The chair disappears and I face plant on the asphalt and my chair lands on top of me. I was lying there waiting for someone to see me and care. Jennifer said what were you thinking. That wasn't the kind of reaction I was trying to get from Jennifer.
"The point is the natural reaction is to give up and not do it again. But I've had to do it again and again. If we're going to grow we must push outside of our comfort zone. I have fallen flat many times. That's OK. Get up press forward and focus on your blessings. Get up when you fall and you will have success. Jennifer and I started a family. We have five children a boy 13, a boy 10, a girl 6 and 18 month old twins, a boy and a girl. I have never changed a diaper. My kid's realize that their dad is different. I was reading to my oldest son one time and to turn the page I wet a finger and stick it to the page and then turn the page. That time I couldn't get the page to turn. My son looked at me and said, 'you can't do anything.' That cut me to the core. I told him, I can read, can you read? I didn't really handle that very well. One day everyone on our cul-de-sac was out flying kites. My son took his kite out but it didn't have the tail. I told him he needed to put the tail on but he couldn't get it on. He looked at me and said, 'All I've got is a guy in a wheel chair.' You can laugh or you can cry and in our life we have chosen to laugh. Push yourself, don't be easily offended and get up when you fall," said Wilkinson.
The students asked Wilkinson some questions along with principal Larry Davis who wondered if Tyler remembered visiting Emery High and playing a football game there. Tyler said yes he remembered and it was one of his lowest rushing yardage games. Tyler said he remembered going to Pineview and watching Emery beat Pineview when Shaun Bradley was playing for Emery. Which was good because he hated Pineview.
One student wondered if Tyler's accident delayed his graduation. Tyler said his accident happened in February and he already had enough credits to graduate. The college he went to honored his athletic scholarship and he earned good grades and had the scholarship transferred to an academic one. He went into business and accounting and is now works in investment and finance and has for the past 18 years. Tyler said he and Jennifer married when he was 21. He has now spent more time in the wheel chair than without which he said is hard to believe.
In speaking to the chamber lunch Wilkinson said sometimes people have ridiculous ideas, around the time he and Jennifer were married someone was asking a friend of theirs if Tyler and Jennifer were considering having children. The friend said yes they were and the person said 'well if they have children, won't they be paralyzed? It was a ridiculous question. No our children aren't paralyzed, but sometimes when they are running around in church, I wish they were.
Wilkinson described his injuries to the audience saying in his accident he broke the C5 and C6 vertebrae in his neck. He told how one time after he was first married he was at a speaking engagement and fell over and couldn't get upright again and he just kept right on talking. His wife Jennifer was in the audience and she kept thinking someone should help him and then she thought, oh, that's my husband maybe I should sit him up, which she did.
Wilkinson said it's all in your attitude. When you look back you need to say, I was a good honest partner, I was a great friend or father. It's not going to matter if you could walk or not. Don't take the little things for granted. Wilkinson said he gets a lot of phone calls from people who have been involved in accidents and are injured, the conversation usually starts with Tyler had his whole life ahead of him, before his accident, but Wilkinson said, didn't I have my whole life ahead of me after my accident? Things are different, but I still wanted to go to college, get married and have a career. "My activities and options changed, but my whole life was still ahead of me," said Wilkinson.
"Set goals. Goals are good. Goals are the future. But all you really have is right now. The things you do today will help you reach your goals. Learn to breath by yourself, learn to sit-up learn to push.
"I had a love/hate relationship with my therapist. There were days I wanted to just lay there. I am grateful they didn't let me just lay there," said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson encouraged everyone to keep growing, assisting and building and to never retire and just coast along. Try different things. Always push yourself and always get up when you fall.
Wilkinson said he was able to get through his trials without asking, 'why me,' because of his great support system, his family and friends and his girlfriend/wife Jennifer. They gave him a lot of encouragement. The whole community rallied behind him. He said sometimes people will pat him on the back and tell him what a great inspiration he is, but Wilkinson said everyone is great, his disability is just out there and obvious, but everyone has disabilities and disadvantages. He thinks everyone could succeed if they were given as much encouragement as he has received since his accident. He challenged everyone to give encouragement to those around them because we don't know what obstacles they are dealing with in their lives.
Wilkinson said he is genuinely happy, but it took him awhile before he could have fun again.
Wilkinson said he wanted to play professional athletics and then become a doctor, but after the accident he refocused and went into business. He met a man who started a firm and he became a partner with him. He's been blessed and fortunate to have a great career despite his limitations.