“Chugga, Chugga, Chugga, Chugga, Choo-Choo!” All day long, trains run through Tyler’s head. No matter what he’s doing, he constantly hears that high-pitched whistle and screeching of the brakes – even if there are no trains nearby. This is where Tyler uses his imagination; and at just five years old, he’s got a lot of it. Tyler’s big brown eyes can easily fool people into thinking he’s paying attention. However, he’s usually dreaming of becoming a train conductor, a job that he knows requires courage – which is nothing new for him. Tyler knows all about being brave, as a rare congenital heart defect has hauled him through what seems like a never-ending road of ups and downs. For his wish, Tyler wanted help bringing his imagination to life: he would “train” for his future career.
From the minute that Tyler set foot in Chattanooga, TN, he was a bundle of excitement. He couldn’t believe his room at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel – it looked like a real train car. Since Tyler was new to the busy city, he wanted to explore and experience as much as possible and was excited to choose from a number of local activities, including the Incline Railway and Chattanooga Aquarium. However, the highlight of Tyler’s trip was yet to come.
Although he was only leaving his hotel for a few hours, Tyler knew he was going to come back a different person: he would be a skilled train conductor. Dressed in his special railroad gear, he set out to live his dreams. Upon his arrival at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Tyler was presented with a bag of train conductor essentials, including a bandana, railroad work gloves and teddy bear wearing an outfit identical to his own. Tyler’s eyes lingered on the tracks as he waited for the train that would whisk him away. The moment it arrived, he beamed as he stepped onto the machine that he had dreamed of for so long.
After an exhilarating ride along the tracks, Tyler was nowhere close to running out of steam – he was too excited for the next part of his adventure. Tyler walked around the museum admiring various authentic trains, and even had the opportunity for some one-on-one time with professional train conductors who taught him all about how to operate a train. Tyler’s infectious smile never left his face; it was a moment that he would never forget.
Tyler’s wish-come-true was a life-changing experience for him. He had never felt braver – it was as if nothing could stop him, not even his diagnosis. Tyler’s spirit did not fade after leaving the railroad. Instead, he returned home with even more enthusiasm than he had before. Although Tyler’s life may still sometimes feel like a never-ending road of ups and downs, he now has the power to remember the courage he received from a different kind of road in Chattanooga.