Many may recognize the name Tyler Trent and associate it with words like superfan, Boilermaker, or hero. They may think of a Motion P–covered suit jacket, a hashtag, or a spirited buzz cut. But Tyler Trent (AS T’18) was more than a Purdue student battling a cancer diagnosis, and his fight for a cure for pediatric cancer continues today.
Tyler was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, at age 15. Despite undergoing tumor removal, bone replacement surgery, and chemotherapy, he was determined to attend Purdue and have a normal college experience. Tyler was an avid fan of Purdue sports and enjoyed every opportunity to cheer on the Boilermakers. He camped outside Mackey Arena to get good seats to a Purdue football game, mere hours after a chemotherapy session. He aspired to be a sportswriter and covered sporting events for the Exponent. He remained a full-time student, traveling to Indianapolis once a week to receive treatment, until September 2018 when the cancer spread to his spine.
As passionate as Tyler was about Purdue sports, he was even more passionate about helping others. He created Teens with a Cause, a student support group that provides aid to families of cancer patients. He was an active member of Purdue University Dance Marathon, a philanthropic student organization that raises money for Riley Hospital for Children—the same hospital where he received treatment.
As Tyler’s story gained global attention, he used his platform to inspire others and encourage donations to pediatric cancer research. A bobblehead doll was created in his image to help raise money for the V Foundation. He cohosted an episode of SportsCenter and wrote guest columns for the Indianapolis Star. He also wrote a book titled The Upset about his experiences, which was published in 2019. Even on his worst days, Tyler showed incredible strength and selflessness, hoping to make an impact in any way he could. His efforts inspired others to donate more than a million dollars for cancer research in his name.
Tyler won the Disney Spirit Award, given by ESPN to college football’s most inspirational figures, and the Sagamore of the Wabash award, the highest honor for Indiana civilians. In 2021, Purdue established the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award to honor students who have overcome physical adversity in their pursuit of higher education. “He would shake his head in disbelief and say that he would be unworthy of it all,” Tony Trent (A’91), Tyler’s father, says.
The Tyler Trent Game
Tyler had a strong bond with the Purdue football team and served as honorary captain of several games in 2017 and 2018. He was present at every game he could attend, dressed head to toe in old gold and black.
On October 20, 2018, Tyler and his family attended a game against Ohio State University, knowing that it might be his last appearance in Ross-Ade Stadium. At the time, Ohio State was ranked number two in the nation, and the team was enjoying an undefeated season. Tyler had no doubts that the Boilermakers would come out on top and predicted a win. Despite the odds, his prediction came true, and the Boilermakers beat the Buckeyes with a landslide score of 49–20. Tyler made his way onto the field in his wheelchair to celebrate with the team, and his story reached millions.
When Tyler’s parents think back to the emotion-filled “Tyler Trent Game,” they remember how happy their son was. “When you have bone cancer, there are not a lot of happy moments,” Tony says. “I remember seeing Tyler smile with all the fans chanting his name.”
“There are times I can’t even process that day and how amazing it was,” Kelly, Tyler’s mother, says. “The game felt like a miracle—from beginning to end, it felt like a dream! We didn’t get home until two in the morning, and we could hardly sleep we were so pumped up. When I’m hurting or sad because he is no longer here, I think back to what that day provided and the memories that were made, and it brings me great comfort.”
Honoring Tyler Trent’s Legacy
Tyler lost his battle with cancer on January 1, 2019. He is remembered for his courage, persistence, and positive attitude, and his legacy lives on through an endowment in his name at the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research. The Tyler Trent Cancer Research Endowment has led to discoveries in chemotherapeutic studies focusing on tumors like the ones Tyler had. The first student member of the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research Director’s Advancement Board, Tyler donated his own tumor cells to the institute to be used for research to help others.
“Childhood cancers are relatively rare compared to adult cancers, so funding for pediatric cancer research is low, limiting our ability to diagnose and treat our children,” says Andy Mesecar, the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research. “Among childhood cancers, osteosarcoma is rarer still. Our children and young adults are our future, and their medical issues deserve more attention and support.”
The Purdue Institute for Cancer Research is one of only seven National Cancer Institute–designated cancer centers in the nation. Since 1978, the institute’s top investigative minds have had one mission: basic cancer-fighting discovery. They work to investigate the cause of and cure for various cancers, specializing in translational research that saves lives by transforming laboratory findings into new and innovative therapies. In collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research is increasing its focus on osteosarcoma research.
“It is truly a travesty that we have not made more progress in protocols to treat these pediatric cancers that haven’t had new therapies in over 40 years,” Kelly says. “Osteosarcoma is one of those. Tyler wanted his cancer to count for something. Donating his tumor for research and raising funds to fuel that work was part of his mission. While he is no longer physically with us, seeing the work the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research is doing keeps him alive, so to speak. This work is desperately needed, and the fact that Purdue is pursuing research in honor of him is incalculable.”
“When I think about Tyler’s legacy, I think about how when a flower blooms, it draws much attention, and when it finishes, it is forgotten,” Tony says. “The work the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research is doing with the Tyler Trent Endowment and his tumor cells means that the flower will never stop blooming.”
The Purdue Institute for Cancer Research plans to honor Tyler’s legacy further with an exciting new project. Details will be announced at the Hammer Down Cancer game on Saturday, October 14, where the Boilermakers will take on Ohio State five years after the memorable upset.
*Photo: Charles Jischke