John Russell's sports column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Twelve-year-old Tyler Johnson is the first to admit that basketball isn’t his first choice when it comes to favorite sports.
Like many students at Steamboat Springs Middle School, he likes to play the game on the playground and in gym, but says he would rather be riding his snowboard on the mountain in winter and riding his skateboard at one of the local skate parks in summer.
But after last weekend, Tyler might be one of the Denver Nuggets’ biggest fans.
Tyler was invited to make the trip to Denver, attend the team’s practice in the morning and be recognized on the court before the Nuggets’ 131-101 victory against the Detroit Pistons on March 12 at the Pepsi Center.
Tyler still lists snowboarding and skateboarding as his favorite sports but admits that after meeting the players, his opinion of the game has changed. He says he will be cheering for the Nuggets as the team drives toward the playoffs this season.
The funny thing is that it was Tyler and his family who set out to change the way people think.
Tyler lost his feet and part of one hand after contracting meningitis in June 2008. Since then, he and his mother, Shara Ludlum, have been working with the National Meningitis Association to teach other families about meningitis and traveling whenever possible for public service appearances where she encourages parents to vaccinate their children.
In February, Tyler and his mother traveled to the Denver area to share Tyler’s story with middle school students along with former Denver Nugget Chauncey Billups as part of the NBA’s Vaccines for Teens campaign.
It was there that Tyler made an impression on the Nuggets’ front office staff. The team invited Tyler, Ludlum and Tyler’s sister Tehya to come to Denver for a game.
Ludlum said it was a little embarrassing because the family doesn’t follow the Nuggets closely.
However, by the end of the game, Ludlum said, the family was cheering. She said the Nuggets made an impression on her and her children.
But Ludlum said she hopes it is Tyler, and his story, that will have a lasting impact. She said the family has been sharing Tyler’s story with families in Colorado and across the country so that families understand the dangers of meningitis. She hopes parents will talk to their doctors about having their children vaccinated. She is not sure that would have helped Tyler, who was just 10 when his life was forever changed by meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get vaccinated between ages 11 and 18. Younger children are not normally vaccinated.
Ludlum will hold on to the memories of watching the Nuggets game with her family for years, but she hopes it’s Tyler’s story that leaves a lasting impression.