Competitive Drive: Sedgwick athlete perseveres through disability, death with ‘uncommon grace’

Competitive Drive
Courtesy: The Tillman Family

SEDGWICK, Kan. (KSNW) – Growing up, Sedgwick junior Connor Tillman wanted to be just like his older brother, Alec.

“I always went to his practices and listened to what the coaches said and that kind of just made me know that I want to play,” said Connor.

Connor was born with nerve damage in his arm as a result from birth trauma. It keeps him from fully extending his arm up and to the side, but his disability wouldn’t keep him from reaching his goals.

“We just treated him like he was no different than anyone else, including his brother,” said Shannon. “He would see his brother practicing, and he would want to do the same thing. If he would say, ‘my arm doesn’t do that,’ we would say, ‘find a way to get it done.’ That’s what he would do.

Courtesy: The Tillman Family

Through his childhood, Alec was Connor’s biggest supporter, and in typical big brother-fashion, his biggest critic.

“Something he was really good at was telling me what I did wrong,” said Connor, with a laugh. “We were competitive with going outside and playing something, even playing a video game. Outside of that we were always close.”

“Connor was the obnoxious one – the instigator,” said Shannon, on her sons’ relationship. “Alec was the one who would finish the job.”

Now, Connor has to get his criticism from elsewhere. Last July, Alec was killed in a car crash. He was just 22-years old.

“It’s one of those situations you don’t know what is the right way to respond,” said Sedgwick coach Doug Mabry. “Alec’s loss was a tragedy to our entire community, but nobody’s hit harder by it than Connor.”

Courtesy: The Tillman Family

The support of a town of just 1,700 would be a light in some of the family’s darkest days.

“The whole community’s support has really got us through all of this at times we didn’t know if we could get through it or not,” admitted Shannon.

“We know that they have our backs,” said Connor.

Roughly two weeks after his brother’s accident, Connor returned to athletics.

“It’s not a surprise with Connor just kind of picking up the pieces. It’s all he’s ever known. When you were born with a disability like this, you just adapt and it’s just part of who you are,” said Shannon.

Courtesy: The Tillman Family

“It’s another one of those things that makes Connor such a remarkable young man,” said Mabry. “He’s dealt with a lot and has dealt with it with a very uncommon grace.”

Through tragedy, Connor has learned that he can overcome anything, as he continues to play the sports that his brother loved watching him participate in.

“As the little brother, your older brother inspires you, so seeing him at my games would always make me feel a lot better,” said Connor.  

Although Alec won’t be at his younger brother’s games anymore, the community has rallied around the family in order to preserve his legacy.

“His friends come to my games now. They have been like my second brothers ever since I was born,” said Connor. “They have supported me through this whole thing.””Alec’s friends coming to support Connor at all of his games have been a real life saver for Connor. When the accident happened, they rallied around him,” said Shannon. “I believe they continue doing this because they know how important Connor was to Alec. This is a way to honor Alec – keeping up with his brother – and they know that’s what he would want of them.”

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