Tyler Rollins, a senior parks and recreation student from Bearden, was nine and a half miles through the 10 mile Tough Mudder race in Okemah, Oklahoma, when he tried to slide through an obstacle.
A few moments later, Rollins found himself stuck face down in water, unable to move. His life was about to take a dramatic turn.
Rollins was in a segment of the Tough Mudder called the swamp stomp, which requires wading through waist high water.
He tried to slide through it but was halted when the top of his head was met by a slab of concrete. That pushed his head into his back, compression fracturing and shattering his C6 vertebra.
The injury left him paralyzed from the waist down and in his hands. He also has impaired sensations in those places and is unable to tell the difference between hot and cold, or dull and sharp.
“Sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘Man, all you had to do was walk through it,’” Rollins said. “I could have done this or that, but my next thought is always, ‘But you didn’t, so get over it.’”
After sliding and falling face first in the water, Rollins tried to push himself up but could not. So he tried to roll out, but to no avail.
“I remember it all very vividly,” Rollins said. “I knew my body was in shock, it probably just shut down my motor functions. I didn’t know I was paralyzed, but I knew something serious was going on.”
Rollins comrades quickly came to his aid, and he recounted being instructed to “get his legs working.”
The medical staff at the event didn’t have the tools to treat him, so his squad-mates were trying to find ways to stop the head bleeding and a means of stabilization.
Following the injury, Rollins had what he described as a “miracle surgery.”
The surgeon made a one-and-a-half inch incision in the front of his neck and was able to pull out bone fragment from his C6, put a new vertebra in, insert a plate with four screws that would fuse his fifth, sixth and seventh vertebrae together, pull bone marrow from his hip and insert it between those vertebrae so they’d grow together.
Following this surgery, the doctor came in to share the news to Rollins.
“The doctor said, ‘Well, his military career is over.’ That was it. I didn’t care to hear anything else. I knew I was paralyzed. I was awake and couldn’t move two-thirds of my body. I knew what that meant.”
Rollins had spent four years in the National Guard and had been promoted to sergeant. He was a scout sniper team leader in charge of two younger snipers.
Initially, he had joined as a means to pay for college, but once training started, it became about more than college for him—it became about protecting and serving.
Rollins is currently medically discharged, and that is heartbreaking to him.
“I’ve done a lot for them in four years,” he said. “I’ve trained and trained others. But not being able to put that into action…that hurts.”
Rollins injury not only affected him and his military career, but also his loved ones. He remembered calling his mom after the accident.
“I said, ‘Mom, I hit my head.’ She asked if I was okay. I told her that it was bad enough that I’ve been paralyzed.”
The situation was hard on the family, but Rollins said they “pulled together” during this time.
Rollins’ friends were also affected. A lot of them came to Tulsa to see him, and some even came all the way to Colorado, where he stayed during treatment.
“A lot of genuine love and care was expressed to me from them,” Rollins said.
The biggest factor that keeps Rollins going has been his faith.
“God is the reason I am alive,” he said. “God has orchestrated the entire thing. You can have 100 reasons to quit, but you just need one to keep going. For me, that’s my faith.”
At first, Rollins found himself bitter and constantly asking why. He realized being hung up on “why” would lead him down the wrong path, one filled with depression.
Rollins compared himself to Job in the Old Testament. When Job asked God, “Why me?” God replied, “Who are you to ask me why?” Rollins holds this story dear to his heart. It gave him the ability to stop asking why, and to ask a new question: “How can I bounce back and glorify God in this?”
Rollins continued to praise, “God is the reason I am alive. I credit him for every bit of return I have.”
Rollins has already seen significant improvements in his condition that once seemed impossible.
He has the ability to grip with his right hand. His right leg also has seen a dramatic increase in mobility, and there has also been some in his left leg.
This amount of improvement in such a short amount of time has changed Rollins view of his wheelchair from being permanent to temporary.
“I’m more faithful that I’ll be out of this wheelchair,” Rollins said. “It won’t be very long. I can’t wait to hike. I’ve done a lot of hiking, and I want to do more. That’s my goal.”
Rollins incident has not changed his philosophy on life at all. People will frequently not take chances for fear of the what-ifs. Rollins views himself as an example of what could happen.
“I’m in one of the worst situations of what could happen,” he said. “But I would still go for it again. Living life in fear of what could happen will really limit how much life you can have.”
Rollins is a senior at Arkansas Tech, where he was happy to return after his accident. His friends, education and ministry are here, so he felt it was the best place for him to be.
After graduation, Rollins originally intended to start his own business doing guided hiking and climbing.
Now, his focus has shifted. He would like to design adapted outdoor recreational facilities.
“God didn’t create me with a quit switch,” Rollins said. “As soon as I sat up, I’ve been motivated to do everything I can to get back to a normal life.”