Strokes After A Stroke: Disability Can’t Stop Colby Student-Athlete

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Colby College rising sophomore Tyler Burt has overcome uniquely challenging odds to play college squash. Here is his story:

This past winter, I played my first collegiate season as a member of the Colby College men’s squash team. And although I loved playing for the team like many other players, my journey to collegiate athletics has not been ordinary.

It is possible that I have just become the first stroke survivor to compete in college squash competition.

In utero, prior to my birth on November 24, 1998, I suffered an acute ischemic stroke. An “acute” ischemic stroke is when a part of the brain dies due to lack of oxygen, often resulting in severe disability for survivors. It is suspected that a singular blood vessel in my brain collapsed — causing paralysis on the right side of my body. I have grown up my entire life with this disability.

Physical and occupational therapy have had a permanent place in my life since I was six months old. It has been challenging. The grit and perseverance I have developed through my therapy now carries over to the squash court.

I discovered squash in the fourth grade, because it was one of the only sports I could play without using my right hand. I started by taking lessons at Berwyn Squash and Fitness, but transferred over to the Scozzie Squash Academy at Fairmount Athletic Club. While attending the Haverford School, I was a four-year varsity squash player. I have been playing in US Squash-sanctioned tournaments since 2011, and have been playing squash since 2008.

I cannot thank Paul Frank and his team from Scozzie enough for helping me achieve my dream of playing a collegiate sport. They continuously pushed me to be the best player that I could be, and they have treated me and the rest of their players as if we were family.

My disability is something that I have been grappling with my entire life. To this day, my right side has been affected enormously. The muscles on my right side are weaker, most of the nerves are dead, and I cannot individually move my fingers on my right hand. I walk with a slight gait differential, and need to constantly work on my cardio, strength, and stretching.

But I have tried to never let that stop me.  I want to use my story to show others that obstacles can be overcome and that limitations do not exist if you have an unrelenting mindset.

After graduating from the Haverford School, I was lucky enough to get recruited by Colby College and have spent this past year as a member of their varsity men’s team. For me, the transition to collegiate athletics was a difficult one, especially with my disability. It was also one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Playing collegiate squash has been an incredible experience for me. Getting to know and bonding with my teammates, as well as my coach, Chris Abplanalp, has been unbelievable. They immediately accepted me as one of their own and do not view me any differently than they see themselves, despite the fact that I have a disability.

Throughout our matches this year, I have found that the level of competition rose significantly from juniors to college. There are more international players, more matches in a season, and every single player hates to lose. I am grateful for the support of my teammates through our difficult matches and the many long weekends we spent on the road.

As I prepare for my sophomore year, I cannot wait for the start of a new school year as well as a new squash season. With the addition of our new state-of-the-art facility opening in 2020, Colby will be raising the standard of competitive play not only for our team, but also for every other team in Maine. I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Tyler Burt is entering his second year at Colby College where he will compete again on the men’s varsity squash team. Tyler’s autobiography will be published later this month.