"How ya been?" said the reporter as the former Alabama football player casually walked into the reporter's house on a Friday afternoon, his mother Debbie and his publicist by his side. The two hadn't talked in person for nearly three years, and Carson Tinker looked happy yet a bit guarded, a bit thinner than the reporter had remembered.
"I feel good" said Tinker, who quickly took a seat at the reporter's kitchen table and laughed as the family dog started to crawl up his outstretched legs. The reporter thought that taping an interview would perhaps be best in the comforts of a living room, away from the busy and noisy Fox6 studios. "Are you willing to talk about anything and everything?" said the reporter. "Maybe we should keep it to present day" said Carson. Who could blame the kid? He's replayed April 27, 2011 in his mind a thousand times, why make it one-thousand and one?
As the Fox6 cameraman clipped a miniature microphone on Tinker's Jacksonville Jaguars jacket, the long snapper looked content yet vulnerable. He wasn't looking for a local TV reporter to be the story with pointed questions about the day he lost his beloved girlfriend Ashley Harrison. How he hung onto Ashley with all of his might, yet within seconds found himself dazed after being thrown 100 yards from a vicious tornado. How he was transported to Druid City Hospital, only to be told the next morning that Ashley was gone.
Carson Tinker certainly remembered the last time he spoke to this reporter. Three months had passed since that April day. Tinker sat with Dave and Darlene Harrison, Ashley's parents, the three of them hurting so much that their laps would be soaked with tears. "She wasn't just our angel, she was everyone's angel" said Darlene, while Dave, so distraught that he could not speak, could only cry and shake his head.
The pain from losing a loved one does not subside in less than three years, but Carson is smack dab in the middle of his long road to recovery. Back in the living room on the April Friday of 2014, Carson spoke of the lessons he learned and where he is going. Tinker wants the world to know that he lives today in vision, not in circumstance. He wants the world to know that he never said "God, why me?" but rather "God, what do you want me to learn from this?" What he has learned is that He has sent Carson to witness, that He wants Carson to spread encouragement to others, that He wants the former Bama football star to share his journey through a new book.
"A Season To Remember: Faith In The Midst Of The Storm" is a must read for any father, mother, son or daughter, for any coach, athlete or educator. The football player-turned author speaks of his admiration for his college coaches, his family, his friends and his physicians. And the one area the book does not detail? The future of Carson Tinker.
Over a year after he lost Ashley, Carson met a beautiful young lady named Annie Bates. Could Carson make a commitment? After all, since April 27th, 2011 his life was indeed a process. Come next March, that process will take the couple to Galveston, Texas where they will be wed. Carson and Annie will take the plunge, and Tinker will take one of life's big steps.
Carson will soon head to Jacksonville Jaguars camp. Outside of football he will help Annie with wedding arrangements. While memories of April 27th, 2011 will never leave him, Carson tells the reporter that it's all good, as he has come to grips with the ordeal. He will never forget those who have helped him recover.
As Carson's book ends, he talks of visiting the scene where he was found seconds after he was tossed airborne at the end of 25th Street in Tuscaloosa. A memorial for Ashley and their dogs Josey and B. are kept tidy by residents Jim and Mary Jean Johnson. You see, Mary Jean walks to the memorial every day to "take care of my babies", those babies being all of the plants and trees that were planted in memory of those lost. Says Mary Jean, "Talking to them has become my cathedral. I ask the plants and bushes, "How are you doing? You're looking good today!"
In his heart, the reporter wanted to ask Carson the same thing. "How are you doing... really?"
Instead, Carson, leaving a few copies of his book on the kitchen counter, shuffled out through the garage and said goodbye. As the door shut, the reporter took a deep breath and thought to himself, "That's a good kid right there. I hope he's OK- I hope he's really OK."
Note: My interview with Carson will air Sunday, April 27th on Fox6 News At Nine. Copies of Tinker's book can be found in bookstores everywhere, including Lifeway Books in Tuscaloosa.
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