Waterford senior knows what it means to 'fight it out'

Waterford High School senior Tyler Dyer broke his neck in 2007, leaving him paralyzed. After a long fight, however, he'll walk with the rest of his class at graduation later this month.
Waterford High School senior Tyler Dyer broke his neck in 2007, leaving him paralyzed. After a long fight, however, he'll walk with the rest of his class at graduation later this month. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Waterford - On graduation day later this month, Tyler Dyer will walk with the Class of 2010, three years after it was doubtful he would be able to walk at all.

"That was my goal," Dyer, 17, said. "To stay in school and graduate with my class. I did not want to get left back."

Dyer wanted to, in his oft-repeated phrase, "fight it out."

On April 13, 2007 - a Friday, Dyer recalled - while on a family vacation in Tampa, Fla., he dove from a boat into the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

He broke his neck in three places and was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. After seven hours in surgery, Dyer could only breathe and move his toes a bit.

He spent two months in recovery in Tampa, eventually regaining movement in his left arm and left leg.

While Dyer, who played center field for the Lancers' freshman baseball team, was recovering in Florida, the town and members of Waterford's baseball-mad sports community rallied around him.

More than a thousand people attended a pasta dinner held by the Lancers in the high school cafeteria to raise money for Dyer and his family.

Bedridden in Tampa, Dyer began to think about his future, his mind coalescing around what he did not want to be - miserable.

"When I was in Florida, there were other people there that were miserable," he said. "I thought then I would not let myself be miserable. I did not want to be like that."

Dyer also thought about his father, Derek Dyer, and how hard the accident was on him.

"I put him in my head," Dyer said. "I wanted to fight it out for him."

Once back in Connecticut, Dyer began an intense physical therapy regimen at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, with plenty of work in the pool and time relearning basic things, like brushing his teeth and tying his shoelaces.

"I was just trying to fight it out," he said.

Dyer spent time with his friends, who insisted on his presence at teenage rites such as going to the movies, hitting the beach and hanging out.

"My friends were really helpful," he said. "Even when I couldn't be active, they would take me out."

Dyer also got a hand from Toronto Blue Jays player and East Lyme native John McDonald, who hosted him while they were playing the New York Yankees at old Yankee Stadium.

He got to meet some of his hardball heroes, including Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.

"I still have Posada's cap," Dyer said.

In 2008, Dyer, feeling stronger, made his way up the sidewalk of 20 Rope Ferry Road and walked through the doors at Waterford High.

"When I came back to school," he said. "I wanted to walk, not be in a wheelchair."

Principal Donald Macrino said it was one of the more amazing things he's ever seen.

"When I saw him walk in," Macrino said, "I was speechless. It was a miracle, and that's what everyone termed it, a miracle."

Dyer doesn't regret the events of that Friday three years ago.

"I never say I wish I could go back in time," he said.

Now, Dyer is focused on the future, attending Three Rivers Community College next year to get started on a degree in pharmacy.

"I want to help people," he said.

Eventually, Dyer hopes to get into the University of Connecticut's pharmacy program, one of the tougher majors at the school. Once there, no doubt, he'll fight it out.

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