Light in Darkness: The Trent Story

by Hannah Hartzell | Sep 7, 2019 | Articles

Tyler TrentPerhaps you think you know the Tyler Trent story. During 2018, you heard his name echo across news outlets all over the nation. From ESPN to USA Today, everyone was talking about the crazy-passionate kid with cancer who loved sports and was blazing through life as he raised money for pediatric cancer research.

But before he was a nationally recognized name, Tyler Trent was just another homeschooled kid from central Indiana. He loved watching sports with his family and dreamed of becoming a sports writer. And like many homeschool kids, Tyler and his two younger brothers grew up at church.

“[Tyler] loved College Park,” say his parents, Tony and Kelly. “He loved youth group and he loved the retreats. He was a student leader, went on Vision Trips, and was baptized here when he was eleven. College Park had a huge impact on his life.”

As a student, Tyler developed a relationship with the Pastor of Student Ministries at the time, Joe Wittmer.

“I met Tyler in 2012. He and his friends were the regulars in youth group and I really clicked with them,” he remembers. “Tyler was a knucklehead teenager like any other kid—I told him that and I told his parents that,” Joe says with a laugh. “But what I saw in Tyler was the move from selfish to servant, and his cancer fast-tracked that spiritual and emotional development.”

When fifteen-year-old Tyler was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2014, Joe offered to chauffeur Tyler to and from chemo treatments, leading to many deep conversations about hopes, fears, and dreams. Over the next four years, Joe continued to walk with the family as they endured the ups and downs of treatment, remission, and—in 2017—a return of the cancer, this time in Tyler’s pelvis.

It was this second diagnosis that, according to Kelly, signaled a shift in Tyler. Her son, whose childhood nickname was “smiley,” had always approached adversity with determination. But he felt like he wasted his first battle with cancer.

“The second time around, he was changed from a standpoint of his relationship with the Lord,” Kelly says. “He didn’t want to waste the second diagnosis.”

When Tyler’s cancer-ridden body could no longer get out of bed, Joe would regularly come by with ice cream and Slushies, and the two would talk. Though his body was weakening, Tyler’s faith only strengthened. His battle cry became 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

“He really proclaimed that when he was sick,” says Tony. “He taught us how to live through extremely difficult situations and still give glory to God—to rejoice always, even when you don’t feel like rejoicing.” 

According to Kelly, learning to lament—realizing it’s okay to ask God, “Why? I don’t understand”—has made all the difference in the family’s ability to rejoice through trial.

And they haven’t lamented alone. Tyler’s “crew” as Kelly calls it, has been a constant—visiting the hospital during Tyler’s surgeries, stopping by the house with food, and praying faithfully for the family before and after Tyler passed away in January.

“People reached out to me after his memorial service, saying things about College Park. They noticed how well the church cared for us,” Kelly says. “[Our church family] has gone above and beyond.”

“Many people know we go to College Park because of Tyler’s story,” Kelly says. “Because of that, they either heard Pastor Mark or watched the ceremony, and many of them either come to church here now or they watch online. It’s awesome.”

Tyler is no doubt rejoicing. And as the Trent family continues to grieve and support Tyler’s legacy, the impact gives them joy as well.

“A couple of weeks before he passed away, we were lying together and talking,” Tony recalls. “Tyler said: ‘Dad, there were only two things I wanted to do with my life: bring you and mom honor and respect, and live my life to glorify the Lord.’” That, Tony said, is the greatest gift a child can give a parent.

“He was taught so well,” Tony says. “He knew he was going to win either way. He would either be in heaven with Jesus or on earth with the people he loved.” And many of those people, say Tony and Kelly, are right here at College Park.

“We have felt incredibly loved and cared for,” Kelly says. “And I believe Tyler felt that as well.”


This story was originally published in Altitude: Stories of Impact, Vol. 2 by College Park Church.