Stover copes and moves past father’s death

David La

Tyler Stover plays rugby, so it’s within reason to say he is tough.
Tough enough to tackle a hard-charging runner without the benefit of a helmet or shoulder pads. Tough enough to play a game that tests the limit of your muscles and lungs.
To play rugby is to show heart.
And Tyler has heart. A big one. Bigger than most people’s because for 12 years it’s been a sanctuary for someone special to him. Somebody ripped out from his life in a cruel and tragic fashion. His father Larry.
Larry Stover, his two sons, 8-year-old Nick and 6-year-old Tyler, along with a business associate, were on their way to Duluth in November of 1986 to visit Larry’s sister.
Along the highway, Larry noticed a small fire burning among the scores of dried leaves and branches. Concerned that a larger fire would result, Larry pulled the vehicle over. He walked over to stomp out the fire, but stepped into a completely different situation.
The fire was not caused by a cigarette thrown from a passing motorist — it was a downed electrical wire.
A live electrical wire.
“We had stopped probably the distance of a block or two away,” Tyler said. “He screamed so loud that my brother and I could hear him from inside the van.”
Finally freed from the wire, Larry was taken to the burn center at a Duluth hospital. Shortly thereafter he was flown by helicopter to a Milwaukee hospital in a fight for his life.
The diagnosis: 90 percent of Larry’s 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame had third-degree burns that had become infected. The prolonged exposure to the electricity had damaged his brain severely.
Larry slipped into a coma a few days after Christmas, and while the rest of the world celebrated the coming year, the Stover family dealt with an unthinkable decision that had to be made.
“My family consulted the church and they decided to practice euthanasia,” Tyler said. “He was only supposed to last a day or two of the respirator and he lasted two or three weeks.
“He died a week after my birthday. February 8, 1987.”

The healing
“It was just so hard to see,” Tyler said. “My dad was a big guy, to see him go down like that and to be rendered so helpless and doped up on morphine in the hospital — that’s your hero you know?”
Only two years would go by until Tyler’s widowed mother Kathy would remarry. Tyler would follow in that direction of recovery, allowing his father’s death to become a memory and not an excuse.
And he helped others do the same at his church.
“They invite me back maybe every other year just to tell my story to people who lost a parent or sibling,” Tyler said. “I pretty much clear the room when I give my speech.”
Tyler’s mother, Kathy Stover-Pielmeier knows that each time her son speaks to others, he is making another stride toward his own healing.
“In general, when people feel they can help other people through a crisis they’ve gone through, it always makes you a better person,” Kathy said.
Even more important than consoling a member of the church, the trips back home to Pewaukee, Wis., allow Tyler the opportunity to see his 16-year-old sister Abbey.
“She’s a total darling,” Tyler said. “I always took her to those father/daughter dances at our high school. I love calling her up and just hearing about her weeks.”

These days
Tyler went on to play high school football at Wabasha Catholic Memorial, a Wisconsin state champion. He then turned down opportunities to attend several eastern schools because he wanted to stay close to home.
Now a 19-year-old sophomore on the University’s club rugby team, Tyler combats the loneliness of being in Minnesota alone by remembering that his heart — his big heart — is where the home really is.
“Sometimes I feel that because my mom’s not up here and no one else is seeing the good things I’m doing, I find myself asking, ‘Why am I doing this?'” Tyler said.
“I try and catch myself at times when I’m flying everywhere by the seat of my pants, and remind myself that he’s up there.
“All through high school football and even now in rugby, he’s got the best seats in the house for everything.”

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]