Try to make a difference

January 4, 2019

I was sitting in the 300 level at Nissan Stadium last Friday, commiserating with an old friend in the final minutes of Auburn’s 63-14 thrashing of Purdue in the Music City Bowl.

How in the heck did this team not only beat Ohio State, but dismantle them?, we wondered aloud. I had no answer.

Upsets happen all the time. The oft-unpredictable nature of sports is one of many things that make it so special to so many of us.

In this case, it had much less to do with Xs and Os than it did with a transcendent force that was at work that magical night at Ross-Ade Stadium.

That force was Tyler Trent.

The 20-year old Purdue student whose courageous battle against terminal cancer became an inspiration for thousands if not millions died Tuesday night at his home in Carmel.

Trent was the honorary captain of the bowl game. The crowd of some 60,000 rose in unison to applaud him as he was helped to the field for the coin toss. It turned out to be the final appearance of Tyler Strong, the pediatric cancer awareness and fundraising campaign Trent had undertaken in the face of his fate.

Knowing his time was short, Trent dedicated his remaining days to the cause of making a difference in the world and leaving a lasting legacy, which brings me back to the original point about the Purdue-Ohio State game.

At that stage, Trent’s story was largely a Purdue thing. That night, as the Boilermakers inexplicably shredded the Buckeyes 49-20, his struggle gained widespread attention, rapidly becoming a national phenomenon. Trent’s unwavering faith, indomitable spirit and positive perspective amid his supreme fight captured hearts far and wide, even in rival Bloomington, and brought honor to the university he was so proud to represent. Boiler Up, Hammer Down, he would conclude each interview.

So what if Purdue loses that night? Does it all happen? The thought crossed my mind the other night as word of Trent’s passing began to appear on social media. While I would certainly hope the effect would have been the same without the unexpected outcome, I think the memorable win was a tremendous catalyst in catapulting Trent’s mission to another level.

He attended the Iowa game, sharing common ground with Hawkeyes fans who wave to the Iowa City Children’s Hospital after the first quarter of home games. He made it to IU for the Old Oaken Bucket game and, with a gracious assist from Colts’ owner Jim Irsay, he got to Nashville for the bowl game. Early that evening, Purdue’s season was over and, so I sensed, was Trent’s earthly work. Four days later, his suffering came to an end. He could close his eyes and breathe his last, knowing he accomplished what he had set out to do. He had made a difference. My word, had he made a difference. Trent had changed his world and the world he left behind for the better, affecting so much good in such a short time.

Ultimately, whatever you might or not believe in, I think that’s the main reason we’re all here. Indulge me if you will and look up the Prayer of St. Francis and you’ll know what I mean.

Trent died on New Year’s Day, which has come to symbolize a fresh start, a chance to hit the reset button, in our lives. In addition to any other resolutions you may have, be it eating better, giving up smoking or exercising more, let’s all pay tribute to Trent by following his lead, and try to make a difference in our little corner. Our impact probably is not going to be as profound as his, but at a time when our fractious, divided country desperately needs rays of hope like Trent, every little bit of light is important.

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