“I remember the day my wife and I went to have a sonogram for our second child”, shares father, Don Wigington. “We were hoping for a boy. Tyler was born a healthy baby but as the months passed, there were “observations” that eventually became too significant to ignore. And so began our journey of coming to terms with ‘your child is broken’ and all pain associated with that as well as ‘how do we fix him”. The first 5 years of Tyler’s life were filled with intervention and therapy to help him crawl and then walk, sign and then speak.”
As Tyler entered school, it became evident to the Wigingtons that even though he was making steady progress, he was falling behind his peers. He was labeled as having a developmental delay, then cognitive delay. Later, the delays changed to cognitive disability. Don says, “You may not immediately realize how such a small change in one word can have such enormous impact, but it does. A delay suggests that if you just give it enough time, someday this will all be over. The elimination of delay is the same as the elimination of hope. It meant the inability to ‘fix’ our child was real and it was permanent.”
Special Olympics as a Catalyst
“I have always played sports, so I would be lying if I didn’t say I had dreams of watching my son participate in sports, said Don. “Well, as the delays turned to disabilities, it seemed many of those dreams would be out of reach.”
To Don’s surprise, as Tyler grew, so did his interest in sports, but there was an obvious need to find a space where Tyler would fit in and be on a level playing field amongst his peers. One day, Tyler came home from school with a flyer about Special Olympics bowling – a day that forever changed Tyler and his family. Tyler started bowling and Don started coaching. Don was at every practice giving his time, but most of all, he was there with Tyler, sharing sports in a way he never imagined he would.
Overtime, the Wigington family learned that Tyler had quite the competitive streak in him. Of the 18 sports that Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) offers, Tyler has trained in 13 and has absolutely flourished. However, of all the sports, his favorite is track. Don adds, “Tyler has won the gold medal in the 400, the 800 and the 1600 meter runs. And what is most impressive is that he did it in the top division of each event. He can honestly claim that nobody was faster than he was. With the confidence gained through Special Olympics, he started to compete in community races, too. He has ran five half marathons and completed his first full marathon in 3 hours and 37 minutes.”
Success On and Off the Playing Field
Tyler hails a list of accomplishments that can only be defined as spectacular. Tyler was a member of 2014 USA Games gold-medal winning Flag Football team, he represented the United States at the 2015 World ID (Intellectual Disability) Track & Field Championships in Ecuador, attended Special Olympics’ Hill Day with other SOWI members in Washington D.C. in March 2016, and most recently competed at the 2016 Paralympic National Trials. Currently, Tyler is training for the USA National Half Marathon Championships, which will take place in Long Island, New York in October.
In addition to his accomplishments on the field, Tyler is equally successful off the field. Tyler was chosen as the Athlete Speaker at the Knights of Columbus Conference for the 2014 USA Games and has been a member of the SOWI Youth Activation Committee. Additionally, he serves as an advocate for both his fellow athletes and future athletes of the program.
Tyler has witnessed firsthand the positive impact SOWI has had on his life, “before joining Special Olympics, I didn’t trust myself and I would never try anything new,” said Tyler. “Because of my disability, people only saw the difference in me. I want to let you know that Special Olympics has changed my life. Special Olympics allows everyone to be a winner in all different ways. When I put on my spikes for a race or when I give a presentation, I know that people accept me for who I am.”
My Son is Not Broken
“Life is a journey, full of twists and turns. Some experiences are what you make and others are simply the result of fate”, shares Don. “My son, the boy I once viewed as my small broken child, is no longer small. And he is not broken. He is a great young man and a true athlete. It took Special Olympics Wisconsin, and all it has to offer, to show us that. Tyler’s life, my life, – our family’s lives – are better today because of this organization. He has achieved more than I or anyone else ever could have imagined.”
The Wigington’s story illustrates the power of Special Olympics – impacting not only the lives of our athletes, but also the lives of their families. Help Special Olympics Wisconsin bring more athletes onto the playing field by making a donation today!