In Loving Memory of Ouachita Baptist’s Kyle Tilley

By Rachel Ewart, Swimming World College Intern

ARKADELPHIA – On Oct. 25, 2014, beloved Ouachita Baptist alumni swimmer and coach Kyle Tilley, 26, was killed in a car accident near Dallas/Fort Worth.

While Tilley was driving around 11:40 p.m., another car driving at a high speed rear-ended his car. As a result of the wreck, Tilley’s car rolled several times killing him at the scene and injuring his passenger Nick Bass, who is also an alumni swimmer at Ouachita.

Bass was rushed to the intensive care unit, and put in a coma after the accident. Tilley wasn’t so lucky as he died at the scene.

According to Tilley’s parents, a policeman came to their house that night and assured them that their son had done nothing wrong and that his death was merely an accident due to road rage.

Kyle’s Funeral was held at FBC Lewisville in Flower Mound Texas; there was an estimated amount 1,500 people who attended to show their love, appreciation and respect towards him. Kyle’s death not only affected his family and friends, but also the swim team he coached, all of Ouachita’s community and many others. While looking back at his life, one can easily see why Kyle Tilley will never be forgotten.

Kyle’s story

At a young age, Kyle began swimming and adopted a passion for the sport all throughout his life. He attended Ouachita Baptist University (2006-10) where he joined a swim team that he fell in love with. After graduating Ouachita, he continued involvement with the team by coaching the Tiger Sharks, then later went on to coach Lakeside Aquatic Club near Dallas, Texas.

kyle-coaching-lacKyle had a heart for kids and worked with them daily, impacting and motivating them each time he set foot on the pool deck. One of the parents from LAC, Lisa Rorer, mentions how much her 10-year-old son was truly inspired by Kyle and his coaching.

“We never saw Coach Kyle without a smile on his face,” Rorer said. “As a parent, you love to see your child enjoy and want to go swimming because of wonderful coaches. Kyle was very special to all the kids.”

Additionally, family friend Nancy Boldt whose daughter swam with Kyle on LAC said, “Kyle always had a smile on his face and an encouraging word for his friends. He liked to look out for others especially his sister, Nicki…He would race his heart out during a race and then turn and shake hands with the winner. Kyle had a passion for swimming that continued into college and even after college when he began coaching.”

It was apparent that Kyle’s love for swimming and other people overflowed tremendously into the hearts of others.

Kyle had one of the most joyful spirits Ouachita Baptist has seen. Even at 5 a.m. practice, Kyle always had this contagious energy and liveliness to him. His obsession with Star Wars and his corky voice impersonations were a few things that made him unique and just fun to be around. Attitude is everything in a sport and Kyle was a perfect example of the positivity that every athlete should strive to possess. Ouachita alumni swimmer Dawson Pritchard states,

framed-kyle-tilley“I’ve met few people with such a zeal for life like Kyle Tilley,” Ouachita Baptist alum Dawson Pritchard said. “I had the honor to not only swim for Tilley, but I also had the privilege to coach against him. He made you excited to be near him. He was the type of person who was always real with you; he invested his time and energy in learning your story and how to help you write it better.”

There were more than 50 Ouachita Tiger Sharks that attended Kyle’s funeral to support the Tilley family, and show their love for Kyle. As a result of his death, the OBU swim team has come together as a family and learned to appreciate each other more than ever.

The Tilleys coping with Kyle’s death

tilley-familyKyle’s younger sister, Nicki Tilley, admired her older brother tremendously and did what ever she could to be like him.

“If Kyle was playing soccer, then I wanted to play soccer,” Nicki said. “If Kyle was in the pool, I wanted to be in the pool. I even followed him to Ouachita for a semester. He taught me strength and to have a good heart. To treat people with kindness but never forget your self worth.”

The grieving process has been exceedingly difficult for the Tilleys.

“We have our good and bad days but we are strong because we know he is in heaven with everyone he wanted to meet and he is probably Jesus’ best friend!” Nicki said.

Kyle’s mother, Dona Tilley, expresses that losing her son has been a traumatic experience, but the family has done a good job of comforting each other.

“It’s a process,” Dona said. “It’s one minute, hour and day at a time. The shock and horror of it slowly gave way to a blessing, joy and assurance that God has never left us. Our faith in Him and the knowledge that we will be separate for a short time is the thing that keeps us sane.”

However, even through all the sorrow experienced in the situation, the Tilley family has grown closer together from this difficult time; they are extremely thankful for all the love and compassion demonstrated by others.

“We walk in a different world, a world…a world that offers us little,” Dona said “The purely amazing thing that has come of all this is our friends, neighbors and strangers that knew and loved our son. They have poured out their love and prays on us and we are forever grateful.”

Currently

Nick Bass is currently still recovering from the accident, but is thankful for how much progress he has made in his recovery.

“For someone who has been an athlete their whole life, recovery is a difficult road to walk,” Bass said. “I have trouble coping with how limited I am now. But I owe a lot to the doctors and physical therapists that are helping me get back to where I was. They remind me that it will all get easier, and they also remind me of how happy I am to be alive.”

Bass and Tilley were roommates, close friends and former teammates at Ouachita.

“I never did anything to earn Kyle’s friendship,” Bass said “It didn’t matter if I was important, impressive or convenient, to him I was a friend and that’s all that mattered. He taught me what it really meant to be an unconditional friend. That’s why he was so special, that’s why he will be truly missed.”

Through the loss of his dear friend, Nick has realized many admirable characteristics that Kyle possessed, especially in terms of his optimistic attitude towards swimming.

“As athletes, we were always thinking about how we were competing, but Kyle would always remind us why we were competing…that’s what made you want to swim with him or swim for him,” Nick said.

How Kyle’s death made an impact

Though Kyle’s death has been devastating, many people have come together and generously donated towards a fundraiser for his family and also towards a swim scholarship created in memory of Kyle.

“In our shock of that first week, our neighbors, The Browns, asked if we wanted to start a scholarship fund,” Dona said. “They said that they would do all the administration. We mutely nodded and agreed and they took it from there. The generosity of so many people simply amazes us. I think Kyle would be extremely happy about helping a swimmer with their college swim experience since he had such an amazing one.”

smile-for-kyleAccording to Nick, the fundraiser titled “Battle for Bear” was started when his sister Mikayla was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis this past January.

“After the accident my family dedicated portions of the money we had raised to help Kyle’s family and honor his memory,” Nick said. “We knew that there was no amount of money that was going to replace Kyle. For us it was about something more; it was about letting people show how much Kyle meant to them. It was about coming together to remember someone who made such a difference in all our lives.”

smile-for-kyle-fundraiserThis fundraiser, titled “Smile for Kyle”, is impacting many people. Wristbands are being sold to raise money for his fund and also to continually remind people of Kyle’s joyful and positive spirit. The Tilley family is truly grateful for the generosity and selflessness of the Bass family, as they have included “Smile for Kyle” in their quest.

Rachel Ewart is a junior competing at Ouachita Baptist. Ewart has been swimming competitively since 1999 as part of Swim Omaha (1999-2001) and the City of Shreveport Swim Team (2001-12).