Tony Paul The Detroit News
Published 2:46 PM EDT Mar 27, 2019
With his prosthetic right leg painted black and gold, Sean English long has taken to jokingly referring to himself as a “living, walking billboard” for Purdue University.
On Wednesday, the university he’s always wanted to attend honored him as the inaugural winner of the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award. It’s a scholarship named after the Purdue superfan who captured the hearts of the nation before he died Jan. 1 at the age of 20 following a long battle with bone cancer.
During Wednesday’s campus ceremony, attended by English, a Northville native, and his parents, Purdue also named Ross-Ade Stadium’s student entrance after Trent.
It’ll be the Tyler Trent Memorial Gate, include the monicker “T2” and feature a plaque with a picture of Trent that will read, “Forever Our Captain.”
“I’m stunned and honored to receive an award that bears Tyler’s name,” English said in a statement released by Purdue. “Without this support and that of Purdue University over the past year, I would never have been able to achieve my dream of attending college, let alone an institution such as Purdue.”
Later, on Twitter, English wrote, “I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but I will do my best to preach the good word that Tyler spent his late life preaching.”
English was unavailable for a quick interview with The News because of his class schedule and exams.
English, 18, was on his way to Sunday Mass on April 2, 2017, with his mom and dad when they came across an overturned Jeep on I-96, near the Davison freeway. They stopped to help along with another passing-by driver, when another driver crashed into English and the other Good Samaritan, a local doctor. The doctor, Cynthia Ray, died. English, miraculously, survived, but needed more than a dozen surgeries — “We lost count at 13,” Sean English Sr. told The News last year — and months and months of physical therapy.
The driver was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.
Before the accident, English, a student at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, was well on his way to earning a track and field scholarship at Purdue, where his father also ran track. English also ran cross country and played basketball in high school.
In a flash, those dreams were gone (though he did run one final, tear-jerking race), but his dream of attending Purdue stayed strong — and his relentlessly positive outlook on life stayed strong, impressing everyone he came across in the weeks and months following that life-changing morning.
“If other people can see me smiling, if other people can see me going through hell and just realizing I am going to be OK and I’m gonna be completely fine and happy in the end, then whatever they’re going through, hopefully I can help them with that,” English told The News last year. “Life is way too short, that grudge that you’ve been holding or whatever it is, it’s way too short to keep.”
Last August, a full house of friends and family — and even more total strangers — gathered in Ferndale for a fund-raiser just a day before English was to move to West Lafayette, Ind., and they raised thousands.
At Purdue, English is majoring in exploratory studies. He has dreams of one day walking on to the basketball team. Purdue coach Matt Painter even with English during a pre-enrollment visit to campus. There’s nothing he believes he can’t do — a trait he shared with Trent, whose condition may have worsened late in 2018, while his spirit and outlook, by all accounts, never did.
“Tyler showed the character and resiliency to which we all should aspire,” said Purdue president Mitch Daniels, who long has been a big booster for English, and selected him as the first scholarship winner. “His message of hope and positivity resonated far beyond our campus; it truly touched the entire nation. His story is now a big part of the Purdue history, and this gate and scholarship will serve to preserve it forever.”
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