As a kid, Tyler Wesley of Denver, Colorado, dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player.
The athletic teen dedicated all of his focus to improving his game. By the time he was a freshman in high school, he’d already made the varsity soccer team.
Sadly, tragedy struck before Tyler could see his dream of going pro come to fruition. The then 15-year-old was wrapping up his sophomore year when he was involved in a rollover car accident. His neck was broken along with the C-4 vertebrae in his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
“My life would forever change in just a matter of seconds,” Tyler said. “I was then [admitted] to Denver Health. I was on a ventilator, g-tube, neck collar, and a halo to stabilize my neck in place. The doctors told me and my family that I would never walk, talk, move my arms, or even breathe on my own again.”
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Tyler was in the hospital for months, all the while refusing to believe that he would never walk again. Instead, he threw himself into regaining his mobility with the same vigor he’d always shown on the soccer field.
He quickly began exceeding his doctors’ expectations. He started with small accomplishments like progressing from a sip-and-puff wheelchair (which is controlled by one’s breath) to a foot drive wheelchair (which is controlled by movement in the feet). Then he pushed to regain some motion in his hands, which allowed him to use a hand-control joystick wheelchair.
After several years of hard work and exhausting physical therapy, Tyler progressed beyond the chair to a walker. He also ditched the ventilator, neck collar, g-tube, and halo — all of which are medical tools designed to help people with quadriplegia.
When he wasn’t working to regain movement, Tyler was returning to his life as a teenager. His mother urged him to go back to school to finish his junior and senior years, and he managed to graduate with his classmates on time in 2014!
“I thought that all my friends and other students would look at me differently or make fun of me because I would be going back in a power wheelchair,” Tyler said. “It was the exact opposite though, everybody in the school showed me so much love and they were so caring and kind to me.”
Five years after his accident, Tyler was able to share a video of himself standing up and walking a few steps. The clip went viral and earned him international attention. Rapper Kanye West even sent him a handwritten note and a custom pair of sneakers!
Tyler decided to use his internet fame to encourage others who are struggling to recover from spinal cord injuries.
5 years ago I was involved in a roll over car accident that left me paralyzed from the shoulders down. This is my progress today.. ♿️🚶🏾 pic.twitter.com/gMY131Lrik— Tyler Wesley (@T_Wes44) May 21, 2017
“If you’ve recently suffered from a spinal cord injury or have experienced a major injury from a sport or an accident, it might seem like every aspect of your life has been affected,” he said.
I’ve learned that you just have to work hard and do it. You have to force yourself to get up. You have to force yourself to put one foot before the other and you refuse to let the pain get to you. You fight. You cry. Then you go on about your day of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.
Tyler now sees his wheelchair as a tool to help him achieve his goals instead of as a hinderance. He has found comfort and support in the spinal cord injury and disability community, and he’s eager to be an inspiration to others who are in the same situation.
“Going from an athlete to being in a wheelchair since I was 15 years old hasn’t shaken my confidence and who I am as a person,” he explained. “I’m still that same person I was mentally, just a lot more knowledgeable, and with a higher level of gratitude and appreciation for life.”
It has now been nine years since that devastating accident changed Tyler’s life forever. He has come a long way since then, and he’s using his injury to help others every chance he gets.
He even shared a new video to show the progress he’s made in walking on his own. See how far he’s come below, and don’t forget to share this powerful story of strength and resilience.
9 years ago today, I was given a 1% chance to ever walk again… 🚶🏾♂️ pic.twitter.com/t8I3SpS6op— Tyler Wesley (@T_Wes44) May 20, 2021
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