91983_000_004The friendship that developed between Ty, a high school football player, and my seven-year-old son, Weslon, was to become very important to both of them.
“Wow, did you see that?” my seven-year-old son, Weslon, exclaimed in delight as he watched the football players in action .He wished aloud, “I’d sure like to meet some of the team.”
We frequently found ourselves at the Round Valley High School football games in Eager, Arizona. Besides Weslon, my husband and I had become involved in the games because of our daughter Mitzi, who was a student at the school. As the season progressed, football heroes had blossomed in young Weslon’s impressionable mind.
Battling my own shyness, I determined to help this stargazing, bashful boy meet some of his heroes. “We’ll go talk to some of the team,” I told him after the game. I then led my son onto the field into the crowd. We approached one of his heroes and tried to offer congratulations. The young man walked past us, aware only of himself and two chattering girls who had cut in front of us to reach him. The next player mumbled “thanks” without stopping as I told him “good game” and tried to tell him he had an admirer in my son.
Reluctantly, we approached the last player. As I told him what a good job he had done, Ty Workman stopped, gave a big smile and said, “Thank you very much!”
Encouraged by his response, I started telling him of Weslon’s admiration. Ty’s black hair and handsome face dripped with sweat from his efforts on the playing field as he listened. He extended his hand to shake Weslon’s and said, “Thanks buddy. What’s your name?”
My son quietly said, “Weslon,” and shyly looked down at the ground.
I told Ty, “Weslon likes the way you play.” Ty smiled at him and said, “Thanks a lot. I’m really glad to meet you, Weslon, buddy.”
Mitzi went to school the next day and told Ty, “My little brother thinks you’re a special person.” From then on she relayed messages between Ty and Weslon. Soon the two boys became real buddies. After each football game they could be found together with Ty’s arm draped around Weslon, chatting about the game. We attended every football game, even those out of town.
As we became acquainted with Ty, we found he was popular with everyone—young and old. He didn’t drink, smoke, or take drugs, and he had good moral values. He encouraged Weslon to avoid harmful things and often repeated his favorite phrase, “Stay close to the Lord.”
Several weeks into this friendship, Mitzi came home from school with some disturbing news. Her face a mask of disbelief, she said, “This is so sad. Ty has multiple sclerosis. They said he might not live longer than a year.” Weslon’s face fell as we told him what multiple sclerosis was. A heavy silence came over us as we realized the seriousness of Ty’s illness.
In the next few months Ty had several attacks requiring hospitalization. He lost weight but forced himself to do well on the football field. Ty, along with Mitzi, was also a member of a school singing and dancing group. He made it to many difficult practices and performances between hospital stays.
Late one evening we received a telephone call from Ty’s father. “Ty is pretty sick. I think it would help him if Weslon could visit him at the hospital tomorrow. He’s blind and he’s paralyzed from the waist down.”
After the telephone call, Weslon disappeared into his room. He came out a little later, green eyes glittering with tears, and said, “I said a prayer for Ty.”
The next morning we visited the hospital, carrying gifts bought with Weslon’s savings. Ty greeted Weslon with a cheery, “Hi, buddy! How are you doing? I can’t see anything clearly; you look like shadows to me.”
“We brought you a few things, Ty,” I told him, trying not to let him hear the fear in my voice.
“Thanks a lot,” Ty said, his dark eyes looking our way but not focusing. During our visit my words were cheerful, but my heart ached as I watched the two buddies talking.
We were amazed when the hospital released Ty a few days later. He went home with his eyesight and with the feeling in his legs gradually returning. Soon he was back in school.
Our family spent a lot of time with Ty through the next few months. Laughter and friendship raised our spirits during Ty’s visits. He would talk with Weslon about lots of things, always reinforcing his slogan, “Stay close to the Lord.”
Soon after Christmas, Ty was flown to a hospital in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, for treatment. While he was there, he went into a coma. Just when we decided we should take Weslon on the long trip to Phoenix because the doctors didn’t expect Ty to live, we received a telephone call. Ty had come out of the coma!
Following his release from the hospital, Ty’s parents took him to a specialist in California. After many tests the doctors ruled out multiple sclerosis. Numerous additional tests found Ty to be suffering from a virus that attacked the nervous system during times of stress or exhaustion. We were joyfully relieved at the news. Ty was still a sick young man, but now he knew how to avoid the debilitating attacks, and, best of all, the possibility of an early death no longer faced him.
In spite of his many absences from school, Ty was well enough to graduate with his classmates in May. During the summer Ty had a job and practiced for the Arizona state high school all-star football game. He was one of four young men chosen from our region to play on the state team. Weslon was invited to practices, and we made the long trip to Prescott, Arizona, for the all-star game. As a result of his illness, Ty was the smallest player in weight on the field, but his effort helped bring his team to victory.
After the game, he came jogging off the field, covered in sweat, but beaming that wide, white smile. Ty got his buddy by the shoulders and they chatted about the game as I took pictures. He told Weslon, “Stay right here. I have to go get something.” A little later he came dashing back. In his hand was his all-star cap awarded him for playing in the game. He told Weslon, “I want you to have this. Thank you for coming to my game, buddy.”
Ty has been an inspiration to many. He was awarded the first “Ty Workman Award” at Round Valley High School. This award is presented each year now to a student conquering adversity.
December 1987 came and with it Ty’s call to the North Carolina Charlotte Mission. In his talk he mentioned, “I have a little friend here who is really special to me. He is Weslon Whiting.” It was a very emotional meeting for us all.
Ty has filled an honorable mission. He continued to remember his little buddy, writing letters in the same spirit as he used to talk to Weslon. Instead of thinking of the joy he has brought to a small boy he turns the situation around. For example, one sentence will stay in my memory for a long time: “Weslon,” Ty wrote, “you’ve been a big help in my life, more than you’ll ever know.” With each letter he sent to his little buddy he enclosed a coin or two for Weslon’s missionary fund.
Three years have passed since Ty was not expected to live. I thank this exceptional young man for giving me faith in a younger generation. And I thank him for providing my young son with a shining example of a true hero.