TROY graduate and former football player Tyler Parker helps a child to safety during flooding in Baton Rouge. (Image courtesy Tyler Parker)
While some aim to become gridiron heroes, former Troy Trojans football player Tyler Parker recently became a real-life hero.
The historic flooding that struck Baton Rouge, La., in August came just a month after Parker, 24, moved to the area from Troy to take a teaching and coaching job at Parkview Baptist School.
Though Parker was safe from the water, a friend in need brought him into some of the worst of it.
The elderly grandmother of Parker’s friend and fellow coach Patrick Spikes was trapped in her home in the Park Forest neighborhood, where water reached up to 5 feet of depth in some spots.
“We had a little one-person kayak, and we figured if we can ride out in the kayak, I can wade through the water and get her,” said Parker, who played safety for the Trojans from 2011 through 2014.
But what Parker saw on the way to get Spikes’ grandmother rattled him to his core: dozens of people, many elderly or disabled, some young children, trapped in their homes and pleading for help.
“They were begging us to help them, and we were like, ‘No, we’re here to get his grandmother. We’ll have to come back,” he said. “We got her, I drug her out and Patrick took his uncle in the kayak, but we didn’t feel right leaving people stranded.”
At that point, Parker knew it was time to go into action. He turned back and, for the next eight hours, made a total of 12 trips total from dry land to the flooded neighborhood, rescuing 11 adults and three children.
“I knew some of those elderly people couldn’t be wet and stay there overnight,” he said. “They’d get sick. There was no power. I knew the water was gross. There was gasoline and sewage in the water. I didn’t want to leave them there to deal with that. I think just about anybody in that situation with a conscience would have tried to help people out. It was literally a disaster.”
That disaster left 13 people dead and more than 60,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
For those, like Parker, who were helping in the midst of the flooding, the sheer breadth of the problem didn’t become apparent until later.
“I didn’t really know the gravity of the situation,” Parker said. “You can’t tell the full damage until the water’s receded. People who got 4 feet of water in their house, sheetrock comes in 48-inch sheets. You have to replace your entire wall, break down every wall of your house, every baseboard, every stitch of carpet. The mold will become a health problem. I couldn’t imagine before I saw it.”
But what really affected Parker were the things he saw in the water as he was helping people.
“Sure, people will have insurance, and sure, people can rebuild houses. But there was jewelry hundreds of years old in the water, family portraits, high school diplomas, birth certificates, things that are almost irreplaceable,” Parker. “I saw a box of Christmas decorations that kids had made for their parents in elementary school. These are things that are tough to let go of. It’s crazy to think you have a house of possessions, and the next day it’s moldy and stinky, and the next day after that you have to tear it down and are left with nothing.”
For many, seeing such devastation would be crushing.
But Parker chooses to focus on the good things he’s seen in the weeks after the flood.
“I would say that as bad as it is, it’s got a super great message behind it,” he said. “I got to see people helping people — people of different races, people of different economic backgrounds. It’s encouraging to see the strength in humanity and to see us be reminded that our joy and happiness doesn’t come from things we own, but the people we surround ourselves with and our faith.”
Parker graduated from TROY in 2015 with a degree in biology. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree through TROY Online.