Courage. Character. Resilience.
Purdue superfan Tyler Trent had them all.
So does heroic teen Sean English, the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy (Mich.) track star who lost his leg helping others, but went on to run again, just as he had promised.
His grit and character not only pulled him through his darkest days, but made him the first recipient of the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award, a memorial scholarship honoring the Boilermaker superfan who died Jan. 1 of cancer.
Boilermakers fan and coin flip participant Tyler Trent looks on from on the field before a game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium. (Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)
English, a freshman in explanatory studies from Northville, received the award Wednesday morning from Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, who also announced that a memorial gate leading to the student-section entrance of Ross-Ade Stadium will be erected in honor of Tyler Trent, who inspired the nation as he cheered on his beloved football team while courageously battling cancer.
For English, the timing of the scholarship was noteworthy: Almost exactly two years ago, on April 2, 2017, he lost his leg after being struck by a car on the side of a highway, where he had stopped to help some teenage accident victims.
“For this award and for this honor to be coming out, especially at this time — It’s God. It’s God working through Tyler. And it’s really coming home that Tyler is watching over me,” said Sean, who got choked up during his speech.
“I’m still in awe that I will be winning the first Tyler Trent award, because the scholarship is amazing,” said Sean, who thanked many people for the honor, including the university president who picked him out of five finalists. Purdue would not disclose the scholarship amount, saying only that Sean will be able to finish his degree thanks to the award.
Sean English, the inaugural recipient of the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award, speaks about the honor as, from left, Tyler’s parents Kelly and Tony Trent, and Purdue President Mitch Daniels look on. The Trents unveiled the memorial gate in honor of their son at the entrance of Ross-Ade Stadium as Daniels announced the gate and the scholarship recipient. (Purdue University Photo/Rebecca Wilcox) (Photo: Purdue University/Rebecca Wilcox)
“At the end of the day, this honor and this award will go beyond any monetary value,” And that’s Tyler’s name — it’s an honor to be attached to anything close to that,” Sean said in receiving the award. “Tyler is a hero, and Tyler Trent’s family is also a hero.”
Then he thanked Tyler’s family, saying:
“One, for raising such an amazing young man, and for giving me something that I want to be when I grow up. I want to be Tyler Trent when I grow up,” Sean said.
Before leaving the podium, Sean stressed that he wanted to get one point across:
“Make this about Tyler Trent. Today is his day. This is his gate. This is such an honor to be attached to his name.”
For U of D Principal Anthony Trudel, who saw Sean during some of his darkest days in the hospital and watched as he bravely fought through physical and emotional pain, the Tyler Trent award is more than inspiring.
“To see where he is now, and then to receive this honor — I am not surprised. This is Sean English right here,” Trudel said. “His story just really fits Tyler Trent and his battle with cancer and the adversity he went though. There are so many parallels. This couldn’t be a more deserving honor for Sean.”
When Trudel heard that Sean made a point of making Tyler the spotlight of the day, he was not surprised. Sean, he said, always put others first.
“At every single event, he never made it about him. He’s a special young man,” Trudel said.
Funded through a combination of gifts, the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award is awarded to undergraduate Purdue students who have encountered serious physical or similarly daunting adversity in their pursuit of a higher education.
Teen who lost foot made promise to run again
English’s life was upended on April 2, 2017, his junior year in high school, after stopping to assist six teenagers in a flipped-over Jeep on I-96 in Detroit. An oncoming car struck English and another Good Samaritan who had also stopped to help. Dr. Cynthia Ray, a Henry Ford cancer specialist, died days later of massive injuries sustained in the crash.
English’s right leg was amputated below the knee, but that didn’t stop him from running his final high school track meet, where he brought a crowd of hundreds to their feet as he came around the final stretch.
“I did this for Dr. Ray,” English said after his race, grimacing with pain. “I know that she would have wanted me to run again.”
University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy runner Sean English prepares his prosthetic to run with before his first and last high school race on Wednesday May 2, 2018 at the school in Detroit. English lost his leg while stopping to help six car accident victims. (Photo: Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press)
He finished strong that day, hugging his parents through tears saying, “I did it, Dad. I did it.” But English’s competitive days as a runner were over.
Before the accident, English was on his way to a potential track scholarship at Purdue, where his father, Sean Sr., had run track. But his injuries were too severe to compete competitively, at both the high school and college level.
Still, English didn’t give up on his dream to attend Purdue.
He met face-to-face with Purdue President Mitch Daniels. Then he met with the university’s head basketball coach Matt Painter. Eventually, he got a handwritten letter from the president.
He got in.
In the fall of 2018, English arrived on Purdue’s campus, thanks in part to fundraising efforts by friends and family in Michigan. He will be able to finish his degree thanks to the Trent Scholarship, according to the university.
Superfan Tyler Trent pressed through challenges
The Trent Scholarship and Memorial are in honor of Tyler Trent, who was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 15 and died at age 20. He founded Teens With a Cause, which recruits young people to perform service projects for families affected by cancer. He went on to earn an associate degree from Purdue in computer information technology.
Throughout his battle with cancer, Trent remained a Boilermaker superfan. He correctly predicted Purdue’s Oct. 20 upset over Ohio State, sending the hashtag #TylerStrong soaring in popularity on social media. He received Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award in December 2018.
“Tyler showed the character and resiliency to which we all should aspire,” Daniels, Purdue’s president, said at ceremony. “His message of hope and positivity resonated far beyond our campus; it truly touched the entire nation”
Purdue trustee chair Mike Berghoff, whose steel company will donate materials and the installation of the Tyler gate and plaque, echoed that.
“Just being around Tyler made you feel good about humanity,” Berghoff said. “Instead of you uplifting him during a very difficult time in his life, he uplifted you. I’m just honored to have a way to say ‘thank you.’ ”
If you want to help
If you would like to support the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award or the Tyler Trent Cancer Research Endowment at Purdue, visit this website.