Kris Tyacke focuses on good friends and positive thoughts
The specially equipped van climbs the driveway at the Tyackes' place in Beaverton, and a moment later the back door slides open. Eighteen-year-old Kris Tyacke wheels out, flanked by a couple of friends.
'My Mercedes,' Tyacke says, referring to his state-of-the-art wheelchair, and it's a beauty, operated by head movement.
Tyacke's life hasn't been the same since that fateful September 2000 night, when the junior quarterback's neck and spinal cord were severely injured during a Beaverton High School football game.
Tyacke's body remains paralyzed from the neck down.
'I probably have some feeling from about my stomach up Ñ more than I did, anyway,' he says. 'It's hard for me to say if I notice improvement because it is gradual.'
Tyacke says this matter-of-factly, with a youthful nod. He is a handsome kid, 6-1 and still athletic-looking, with devilish eyes, a head he partially conceals with a hooded sweatshirt ('hat hair,' he explains), and a wisp of a goatee he figures borrows a page from the boys of ZZ Top. His speech is clear, his sense of humor fully intact. It's the body that has failed him for the time being.
His immune system is down, and in the last 15 months he has had to return to the hospital five times for short stints.
'Twice for pneumonia, twice for an electrolyte problem, once for a kidney infection,' says his father, Darrell Tyacke. 'The hardest part for Kris is the setbacks. You work hard to build yourself back up, and then you are knocked back down. That's very depressing. He doesn't like the hospital, I'll tell you that.'
Kris Tyacke, without a trace of self-pity, is honest when asked if he misses participating in sports.
'Probably more than anything,' he says softly.
Sticking with him
Tyacke was a three-sport star at Beaverton, perhaps destined for greatness. He was dividing time at quarterback in football and was likely to be a starting guard in basketball. He played varsity baseball as a freshman and was one of the best prospects in the metro area. Pro baseball was his goal, and scouts were aware of his promise.
It was all taken away with what appeared to be a harmless tackle.
He says he rarely feels sorry for himself because he has so many good friends.
'It seems like there are always five or six guys over to see him,' says Central Catholic senior Tim Swoboda.
The friends don't visit because they feel sorry for Tyacke.
'Kris makes it fun for everybody,' says Jerrod Grant, his closest friend. 'We always go out and do something. I have only seen him really, really sad about it maybe twice. He has a life-goes-on attitude.'
Last year, Swoboda fulfilled a community service requirement at Central Catholic by visiting Tyacke regularly and helping out however he could. This year, Swoboda has continued to stop by at least once a week, just because that's what friends do.
'We played sports against each other from age 10,' says Swoboda, an All-Mount Hood Conference baseball player. 'I was Raleigh Hills Little League, he was Murrayhill. Then we were on the same all-star team in Babe Ruth. I wanted to be there for him through everything.
'He is the same kid, 100 percent the same person, the same cool guy he has always been. When he is around people, he is always upbeat. I love him to death, and I always will. He brings a lot more to the table than just playing sports.'
Tyacke remains one of the guys.
With a group of friends, he has a week in Arizona planned during spring break 'to watch our baseball team play down there' and to watch major-league spring training games. There also may be a stop in Las Vegas along the way. It won't be the first trip he has made out of town since the accident.
'He really does keep busy with his friends,' Darrell Tyacke says. 'He is not afraid to go the mall and shop, to go to restaurants. We haven't seen a 'lock-me-in-my-room' attitude at all.'
If there are dark moments, Kris Tyacke hides them well.
'We talk through things, and, of course, it is real hard,' says his mother, CeCe Tyacke. 'There are times when he is more down than others, but I have never seen him say, 'Poor me.' That's never happened.'
Since their older son, Colin, has moved on to his adult life, the Tyackes have been able to devote attention to their remaining son. Kris Tyacke is fully appreciative of their sacrifices.
'It is hard to put into words,' he says, his eyes blinking for a moment. 'They pretty much have given up their lives to give me whatever I need.'
Faith in the future
When Tyacke is asked about doctors' prognosis for his recovery, he has a ready answer: 'I don't listen to the doctors Ñ they go by statistics. You can't really say what is going to happen or what is not going to happen. It is time, basically. Time and effort.'
Tyacke says he continues with physical therapy three times a week 'and we will probably eventually get it up to five.' He doesn't want to put limits on what physical abilities he can regain.
His friends and family have faith.
'It's just going to take some time, and he will be back on his feet soon,' Grant says. 'I would say in about 10 years, if he is not walking, he will at least have a lot of improvements.'
Says CeCe Tyacke: 'I still believe Kris will have use of his hands and maybe walk some day. The improvements in technology are in his favor. There is great hope down the road. Once Kris has something set in his mind, he is pretty determined to do it. If anybody could, he could.'
For now, Kris focuses on his classes at Beaverton Ñ he expects to graduate this spring, on schedule Ñ and his rehab program. He intends to enroll at Portland Community College next season and work toward the independence of living on his own.
'I am ready to go off on my own, have my own place,' he says. 'Don't want to live with my parents my whole life.'
Some day, he would like a career.
'Hopefully, something involved in sports,' he says. 'Something like coaching.'
It is something worth rooting for. That much is for sure.