Tyler Olson returns to his home

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

After being away from home for the last eight months, Tyler Olson returned home Tuesday to Lake Mills.

Olson, the Lake Mills junior who suffered a spinal cord injury during the 2008 football season, returned home Tuesday after splitting time between Rochester and Golden Valley.

Olson has spent the last eight months between St. Marys Hospital in Rochester and the Courage Center in Golden Valley recovering from the injury he suffered Sept. 5 when he went in for a tackle on the opening kickoff. The injury left his legs paralyzed and affected the use of his arms.

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Olson’s birthday is Thursday and coming home couldn’t have come sooner.

“I’m just really excited to be home,” Olson said.

Things won’t be the same as before, but being back home will provide a new normal for Olson and his family.

“It will take a little bit before we get to back a new normal,” said Medara Winter, Olson’s mother. “It’s very nice to be home and just to get back to the community and see friends.”

His mother has been at his side for the last eight months, living in an apartment nearby while he was in Golden Valley and a Ronald McDonald house while he was in Rochester.

“It seems like it hasn’t been eight months but yet it feels like we’ve been gone forever,” she said. “It seems like I haven’t been here for years.”

Winter described the experience as devastating but Tyler’s high spirits have made it easier.

“That has helped me because if it wasn’t like that it would be 10 times worse,” she said. “He’s kind of kept me going, too.”

Now back at home, many of the details of his recovery remain to be figured out. Olson is hoping to go to HealthReach at the Albert Lea Medical Center for therapy. He will have a functional electrical stimulation bike that contracts the muscles to pedal the bike in his home to prevent atrophy. He will also do some weightlifting to build his strength.

Olson will return to school for the final week and a half of the school year as a full-time student. The time will allow him to get an idea of things he will encounter his senior year.

He’s on track to graduate with his class, despite missing most of the school year, which was a big relief.

“I’ll just have to take some math classes and science class to kind of catch up,” Olson said. “Other than that I’m still on track to graduate with my class which is really, really good. I was so worried about not being able to graduate with my class and being held back.”

Olson won’t miss the big city much. Though he enjoyed checking out the Target Center, Mall of America and other parts of Minneapolis he’s much more of a small-town guy at heart.

“I can’t even explain how good it feels to be back in a small town,” he said.

Olson has a new companion at his side, Charlie, a 3-year-old golden retriever, that will assist him in some tasks.

“It’s like another arm,” Olson said of Charlie. “He’s a really loving guy. He’s just really nice to have around.”

Charlie came to Olson through a nonprofit called Helping Paws that provides people with physical disabilities. Olson said he’s lucky to have Charlie because normally it takes a year to match a service dog with a person.

“I’m excited to get him out in the community and meet people,” Olson said.

Olson is also excited for summer and the baseball season, which begins Monday for Lake Mills. He said he will try to make as many games as possible this summer.

“I’m hoping to get to every one,” he said. “I know that probably won’t happen for every one because stuff comes up, but it would be nice to get to every one and just support my team.”