BY ROSE CAHALAN IN FEATURES, SPECIAL, SPORTS ON OCTOBER 2, 2013 AT 1:18 PM | 7 COMMENTS Billy Dale has added the photos to add an extra dimension to Tyres story.
Football was Tyres Dickson’s ticket to success, until a drunk driver changed everything. Now, 15 years later, Dickson has found a new calling—with a little help from his Longhorn friends.
Tyres Dickson was the envy of his football teammates at Houston’s Scarborough High School in the late 1990s. A star quarterback and cornerback, he led the Scarborough Spartans to their first state playoffs in years. Recruiter after recruiter showed up to watch Dickson play, and his name graced dozens of blue-chip lists.
When it was time to choose a college, Dickson had his pick of athletic scholarships from big-name schools. It was an easy decision. “I could’ve went anywhere, but my heart was with Texas,” he says.
In September 1997, when Dickson started his freshman year at UT, he was elated to join a legendary team. He also hoped that football could pave the way for a better life. Dickson and his three older brothers grew up in a rough North Houston neighborhood. His mother, Beverly, was losing her sight to a degenerative eye disease, his father wasn’t in the picture, and money was tight. “My whole life I was putting all this work into football to try and better our situation,” Dickson says. “When I got to Texas, it was a vindication that my work was going somewhere.”
Dickson was redshirted as a freshman so he could train for another year and get more experience. He didn’t mind the wait. “It was amazing to be on campus and be a part of something,” he says. “Sometimes now if I’m having a hard time, I just think back on those good times and that helps me go through whatever it is I’m going through.”
On March 22, 1998, Dickson and a few friends were driving from Houston to Austin at the end of spring break—football practice was scheduled to start the next day—when a drunk driver ran a red light and T-boned their car. Dickson was asleep in the backseat.
The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital bed three weeks later. His mind clouded with drugs, all he could think about was making it to the first day of spring training on time. “I gotta get to practice,” he told a crowd of doctors and relatives. “Mack Brown’s gonna get me if I’m late for practice.”
“Tyres, you can’t go to practice. You’re paralyzed,” someone said, and then he drifted back to sleep.
“After Everybody Left, He Was There”
Dick Taylor, BA ’65, Life Member, was watching the local TV news at his home in Houston when he saw a report about Dickson’s accident. A longtime UT football fan, Taylor was working as a business consultant, living alone after having lost his wife to breast cancer in 1996. He was so moved by the story that he drove across the city to the rehabilitation center where Dickson was recovering and knocked on his door. They struck up a friendship, and for the next 10 months Taylor visited the rehab center almost every Friday at noon. “We’d just bullshit the way two guys do,” Taylor remembers. “Mostly we talked football.”
During Dickson’s 18-month recovery, as he struggled to relearn basic tasks without the use of his legs, Taylor was a supportive presence. “After everybody else left, after all the cameras left,” Dickson says, “he was still there.” But then Dickson went home, life got in the way, and the men fell out of touch.
Christmas Day, 2007: Dickson was living with his mother and running a small audio recording and mixing business. It wasn’t easy—their apartment wasn’t equipped for a wheelchair, and the landlord didn’t always keep the lights on—but they scraped by. Until Dickson came home from a Christmas service at church to find the door kicked in and all his audio equipment gone. He calls it the lowest point in his life.
“It rattled me, it really did,” Dickson says. “I worked so hard to get to Texas and then a drunk driver took my career. So I tried to bounce back and go with music and then somebody stole that, too.” Without work experience or a car, he had no way to support himself. He spent the next four months sinking into depression.
Call it fate or call it chance, but one day that spring, Dick Taylor thought of his old friend for the first time in 11 years. “Tyres just popped into my head, I guess,” Taylor says, “and I searched around and somehow got his phone number. I called him up, asked how he was doing, and he said, ‘Not too good.’”
When Taylor heard about the theft, he swung into action. His son, Alan Taylor, BBA ’98, set up a fundraising website called HelpTyres.com and “sent it to everyone I’ve ever met in my life,” Dick Taylor recalls. The site raised enough to replace the stolen equipment and buy Dickson a car (with help from Howard Mays, BS ’65) so he could get to his new job—a job that Taylor helped him find.
Taylor called his friend Steve Lufburrow, the president and CEO of Goodwill Houston, who saw an opportunity for Dickson as a dispatch coordinator in Goodwill’s transportation department. No one knew how it would go—after all, Dickson had never done dispatch work before—but it soon became clear that he was a knockout.
“His quarterback’s mind was the perfect fit for the work,” Lufburrow says. “Calling a play and then making it happen … coordinating all our vehicles was the same kind of challenge.”
There were still other barriers to overcome, and one after another, UT alumni stepped up. Steve Ford, BBA ’72, Life Member, and Mike Robinson, BBA ’76, helped Dickson and his mother move to a wheelchair-friendly apartment in a safer neighborhood. Tommy Moore, ’78, Life Member, and Bruce Baker, BBA ’76, found a specially equipped van that was easier for Dickson to drive. Goodwill’s HR director, Adrienne Webb Braden, BBA ’77, Life Member, was always looking out for him. And Goodwill board member Richard Hightower, BBA ’78, and former UT football player Scott Huntington, BBA ’80, shared Dickson’s story far and wide.
It’s been hard for the independent, soft-spoken Dickson to accept all this help. “In the beginning I had a hard time saying yes to it all,” he remembers. “But I just stick with my faith, and I’ve witnessed how giving people can be.”
These days, he’s doing some serious giving of his own.
On a sunny day this June, a crowd was standing and cheering for Tyres Dickson—only this time in an auditorium rather than a football stadium.
Sharply dressed in a suit and sitting up proudly in his wheelchair, Dickson rolled onto a stage in Grand Rapids, Mich., to accept Goodwill Industries’ Achiever of the Year Award. Beverly was in the audience, cheering for her son. After accepting his award, Dickson flashed his signature grin and tossed up the hook ’em sign for the cameras.
Dickson calls the award “very cool, very humbling,” but emotion shakes his voice when he talks about another, more private honor. A few weeks after the Goodwill awards ceremony in Michigan, Dickson got a handwritten letter in the mail from Mack Brown congratulating him on the award—and on his induction into the T Association, an elite society of student-athlete alumni. “I don’t even have words to explain the magnitude of this blessing,” Dickson says. “I cried like a little baby.”
Dickson is moving up the ranks at Goodwill. Recently promoted from dispatch coordinator to development associate for donated goods procurement, he now spends his days visiting community groups to secure partnerships and donations for Goodwill Houston.”Tyres is Goodwill,” Lufburrow says. “He is everything we stand for. And when he tells his story, everybody gets it right away. He’s always smiling, always positive. Tyres is somebody who never has a bad day, so it’s hard to have a bad day when you’re around him.”
For his part, Dickson says he loves the work. Someday, he wants to return to college to study business or social work, but for now, he’s focusing on his job. “Getting out and meeting people and talking with them, it’s just real fun,” he says.
And he still finds time to meet up with his old friend Dick Taylor. On Oct. 12, Taylor will pick Dickson up at his apartment, and they’ll go to a sports bar to watch Texas play Oklahoma. It’s a little tradition they started last year—just the two of them, some burgers and beer, and the game. “Lord, I don’t know where he came from,” Dickson says, “but I’m so glad he did.”