Auburn Riverside's Tye Dutcher defies labels, limitations

The amputation of his right foot has not hindered Tye Dutcher
The amputation of his right foot has not hindered Tye Dutcher's athletic career with Auburn Riverside.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

Tye Dutcher isn't too keen on labels.

Bring up the terms "handicapped" or "disabled" and the Auburn Riverside junior – who lost his left foot in a lawnmower accident when he was 11 – isn't shy about explaining why he views them as negatives.

"The terms 'handicapped' and 'disabled' make me think of people who can't do something they want to do," Dutcher said. "It's a discouragement when I hear that. I don't want to give up on anything. If I'm pursuing something, I don't want to be called that or told I'm disabled and that I can't do something. In my mind, I know that I can do it.

"With all this technology and so much inspiration in the world, all these people telling you that you can do anything you put your mind to, I'm encouraged to have a positive attitude," he added. "If you're negative, you're not going to get anywhere."

And for Dutcher – a talented swimmer and water polo player for the Ravens – it's this positivity, coupled with deep faith, that helped him overcome the amputation of his foot and endure two years of recovery and therapy.

When the accident happened in 2008, Dutcher and his family were living in Merced, Calif.

His father, Doug, was mowing the lawn with a riding lawnmower while Dutcher, then 11, played around.

"I had a wooden rubber band gun, and I was sneaking up behind him," Dutcher recalled. "He didn't know I was behind him. He reached the end of the lawn and put it in reverse. I stumbled to the ground as he was coming towards me, and the back tire ran over me and the mower got my foot.

"He got up and just looked shocked and was in tears," Dutcher continued. "He lifted the lawnmower up on its side, came to me and tells me he loves me and that he was sorry."

Dutcher said his dad jumped into action, grabbing towels to wrap the leg and stem the bleeding as he called 911.

"And he was just hugging me telling me, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' And I was saying I'm sorry too, and I was crying. It literally felt like a nightmare," he said. "My foot was gone. I don't remember seeing any blood or even the lawnmower on the side, but my foot was gone. It was really surreal."

Dutcher was airlifted to the UC Davis Medical Center in nearby Sacramento, where he received four operations over the next 11 days.

"Once I got there they put me in the ER and laid me on the table," he said. "I could feel the cold from the table on my leg, but I couldn't feel it on my foot. The doctors came to comfort me and I asked if we could pray."

With the help of a family friend and physical therapist, Dutcher spent the next year rehabbing and learning to navigate without his foot.

"The recovery was difficult in the beginning," Dutcher said. "But my mind was focused on the bigger goal of being able to walk and run again."

Dutcher said it was his faith that helped get him through it all.

"There were a lot of times where I asked God why?" he said. "I got through by just being patient, reading scripture and setting my mind toward Jesus and what he wanted me to do and sharing my testimony with other people. It was patience and a lot of prayer that got me through."

He cites his favorite Bible passage as key to his recovery.

"It's Joshua 1:9," he said. "'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.' That verse really encouraged me and helped me push through."

His faith would continue to serve him when he was forced to have another amputation a year after the initial accident.

"After a year of therapy, I had to have another surgery because my bone was growing from the bottom down," Dutcher said. "It was sticking through, so they had to amputate another two inches off. It was another full year of the healing process and therapy."

After two years, Dutcher was finally able to fully resume the activities and sports he enjoyed before losing his foot, including water polo and swimming.

"Once I got into the pool, the first time back playing water polo, it was different," he said. "But I feel like I adapted really well to not having a foot and trying to be as fast as the other guys. Eventually I was as fast and continued to compete. I strive to be the best that I can and be an inspiration to others through sports."

Dutcher also began reaching out to others, sharing his story and talking about faith that got him through.

"I stopped thinking selfishly and thinking more about other people when I had more surgeries," he said. "I just wanted to share how the Lord Jesus healed me and tell everyone to live life to the fullest and get back up from any hard circumstances where you might fall down."

He also credits his family, his father, Doug, mother, Kim, and his four siblings for helping him to stay focused.

"They were really big supporters," Dutcher said. "They really helped me get through it and think positive. They were really there for me."

About a year ago, Dutcher and his family moved to Washington and he began attending Auburn Riverside High School.

Now, six years after the accident that took his foot, Dutcher says that even if he could turn back time, he wouldn't change anything.

"Being 11 years old I didn't know where I was heading, obviously," he said. "I feel like I really became stronger after it happened. Honestly, I would not go back to having two feet. There were just so many blessings, the Lord has really helped give me strength to push on. It's really helped my mindset to become more positive and to encourage other people when they are negative."

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