When the Storm Passes


For NFL rookie and former Crimson Tide player Carson Tinker, an innovative medical procedure and a determination to not be defined by tragedy helped him continue his football career.

By Joe O’Donnell

 

“You are not defined by your circumstances or adversity. You are defined by how you respond to them.”

If there is one thing that defines the belief system underpinning the world of former Crimson Tide and now NFL rookie long snapper Carson Tinker, it is that statement.

NFL Rookie Carson Tinker had a long, challenging road to making the Jacksonville Jaguars football team this summer. Carson first had to recover from the serious soft tissue injury to his right leg sustained in the April 27 tornado that killed 247 people across the state. A traditional flap repair would have jeopardized Carson’s football career, so his plastic surgeon, Dr. Michael Beckenstein, performed wound therapy, dressing changes and an off-label use of a graft product to help him heal with minimal defect.

On April 27, 2011, Tinker’s girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, was killed when she and Tinker were thrown 100 yards from the closet where they huddled with their two dogs and housemates. An EF-4 tornado with winds of 190 mph, the most powerful long-track tornado ever in Alabama, was bearing down on them at 55 mph. Tinker’s story promptly gained national attention, and he emerged as the face of the Alabama football team’s efforts to help Tuscaloosa recover from the tornado that killed dozens and caused billions of dollars in damage.

During the tornado, Tinker and Harrison were thrown from the house, killing Harrison instantly. Carson woke up in a field with a concussion, an enormous gash in his ankle and a ligament separated from a bone in his right wrist. Using the latest technology and innovative technique, Dr. Beckenstein enabled Tinker to rejoin his teammates on the field; later that season, the Crimson Tide won the national championship. To this day, even as he mourns Harrison’s death, Tinker considers every day a gift and an opportunity to help others who have, like him, had their lives upended.

A story about the storm and its aftermath in Sports Illustrated described the devastation that leveled Tinker’s house, 611 25th Street, with nothing left but scattered furnishings, bricks, and books. Three crosses were placed in the ground in the open field where Tinker was dropped from the sky, one for Harrison and the two dogs that also perished. Someone had placed a Crimson Tide flag on the splintered trunk of a tree.

“There was a reason I made it. After everything happened, I remember laying in the hospital and saying ‘Okay God, where are we going to go from here?’ They don’t know what happened to my leg, they think something might have wrapped around it like a chain or something,” Tinker says.

“Dr. B said there is a reason why you are here and you have to earn it. He said, ‘Earn this.’ My mantra has pretty much been to be a blessing to other people. Some people ask for blessings, but I am asking to be a blessing. I feel like football is a platform where people can look me and at how I responded. So I felt like I was in a great position to inspire people,” Tinker says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of Dr. B; not only physically but emotionally. Dr. B was a tremendous asset to me during my recovery and will always be a great friend. I am very fortunate to have someone like him in my life.”

The injury was a significant impediment to the resumption of Tinker’s career. “I guess we thought it was going to heal, but we were naïve. I lost a lot of tissue out of the leg. It was still an open wound, probably about the size of a small apple. We had to scrub it sometimes to make it bleed. Had to agitate to make it worse, so it could get better. Eventually it shrunk to the size of quarter or a 50-cent piece, but it would not get any better. Dr. B decided to do a skin graft. Got graft from a cadaver so I would not have two places that had to heal. He actually did it right there in the locker room,” Tinker says. He was soon back on the field.

At the 2011 Home Depot College Football Awards Show, Tinker, on Alabama’s behalf, accepted the Disney Spirit Award, which honored the Crimson Tide for its recovery efforts. One month later, he helped Alabama win its 14th national title in a 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS National Championship.

This year, Tinker was honored with The Patients of Courage: Triumph Over Adversity award that recognizes plastic surgery patients whose lives were restored through reconstructive plastic surgery and whose charitable actions influence the lives around them.

American Society of Plastic Surgeons members nominate patients who carry an optimistic outlook on life and positively affect people around them, despite the difficulties of their reconstructive procedures.  These extraordinary reconstructive plastic surgery patients are honored by ASPS at its annual scientific meeting.

Storm 1“God gives you strength. That is really the only thing you can say about it. God gives you good stuff and things that are bad. You have to look at everything as a blessing. You have to look at it as, ‘What can I learn from this?’ as opposed to, ‘Why me?’ I learned from it. I don’t think it changed me but it strengthened me. I look at everything as an opportunity now. I used to go through the motions sometimes, now I am very thankful for every opportunity I have,” Tinker says.

This August Tinker earned a starting position as long snapper on the Jacksonville Jaguar’s NFL team and is in the middle of his rookie season. He also works tirelessly as a motivational speaker around the country and participates in countless fundraisers. His autobiography, A Season to Remember: Faith in the Midst of the Storm, is written with Tommy Ford and will be published by B&H Publishing Group. It is due out next spring, though the book can be pre-ordered now from Amazon.com.

“It talks about my time at Alabama and playing for Coach Saban and the life lessons I learned from him while I was there. It is based around the tornado and the 2011 season,” Tinker says.

“The book is my way of giving back. It talks about what happened in the storm but also what I learned from it. The recovery and the vision. You either live in circumstance or you live in vision. This book is about vision. Everyone has a circumstance and you choose how you respond. You can’t control what has happened, but you can control how you respond to it. I chose to live in vision.

“My vision was to keep playing football and be able to have an impact on people and inspire people through football. Football will always be more than a sport for me. Thankfully it is a job now, but football will always be very special to me. Not only did football play a huge role in my recovery, I believe it was a huge part in helping the state of Alabama recover after everything that happened. It was really cool to be able to see that and be able to be a part of that,” Tinker says.

“I also believe that God has used football to give me a platform and an opportunity to help people and inspire people. The reason I wanted to write a book was to be a blessing to people. So many people (like Dr. B) were a blessing to me and helped me overcome some very tough obstacles, and this is my way of giving back to them.”

In a quote from his publisher’s web site, B&H Publishing Group, Tinker says, “I don’t want to be defined by the tornado. I want to be defined by how I responded to the challenges. Coach Saban always teaches us that we are defined less by the problems we encounter than how we respond to them. In 2011 we lost a tough regular season game to LSU. Immediately after the game, Coach Saban told us that we could be defined by the loss or by how we respond to the loss. He said we still had the opportunity to be something special. We were fortunate that a couple of other teams would eventually lose. Because we responded well to the loss, we had the chance to play for the national championship on Jan. 9, 2012, against LSU. In the rematch we won the title.

“The book is about every game and how we moved forward from adversity to victory. In fact, the opening game on Sept. 3 was very special to me. After all the injuries and challenges I had, I was back on the field ready to play football. Coach Saban said that the city of Tuscaloosa and all the Alabama fans were ready to return to some sense of normalcy after the devastation of the tornado. We began asking ourselves as a team what was normal for us. We won 36 games the previous three years, a college football record. So our normal had to be winning all of our games and the national championship, but we took each game one at a time. It was part of the process that Coach Saban describes. We learned greater perseverance. We learned greater teamwork. We learned to overcome.

“I grew up in church, and I was saved as a Christian at eight years old. I read the Bible regularly. But I saw my faith become real after the tornado. I understood that, in the midst of great adversity, God will strengthen you. And I really began to see that some of the principles of being a great believer are played out on the football field: courage, perseverance, faith, and others.

“First, this book is not just about football. I want anyone to be able to pick it up and be encouraged, challenged, and inspired. Though I’m still relatively young, I’ve had some experiences in life that I think can be an encouragement to others. Both of my parents had cancer when I was young. I’ve been through the tornado and the rehab. And I’ve seen what victory looks like on the other side. In Exodus 17, Moses is leading the Israelites to fight the Amalekites. As long as Moses keeps his staff raised, the Israelites are winning. But when he got tired and the staff began to drop, the battle turned for the worse. So Aaron and Hur held his arms and lifted the staff up, and the battle was won. One of my goals on the football team was to lift up the leaders on the team. That is my goal in life. And that is my goal through this book,” Tinker says.

3 Responses to “When the Storm Passes”

  1. genger ferrell says:

    Hi tink its genger. You continue to lift and inspire all those whom you meet. Great article, can’t wait for the book!

  2. Sandra Pierce says:

    A great inspiration. Thank you Carson

Leave a Reply