MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ind. — The passing vehicles top speeds of 60 miles per hour as a young man in a reflective vest trudges along the edge of the southbound lanes of Highway 231 in Montgomery County, listening to podcasts and rap music on his headphones and thinking about a fellow Purdue University student he never met.
“Every time I get demotivated or anything I always go back to Tyler Trent and how he lived his life and everything he stood for,” said Aaron Lai. “He was an amazing person and he has fought through cancer until the end and he lived his life like he never had cancer or anything and he was very grateful for any moment for life.”
Lai, a 20-year-old Purdue junior, keeps walking toward Bloomington, one-third of the way Sunday night, to fulfill his commitment to the Boilermakers’ super fan who lost his fight against bone cancer on Jan. 1.
Trent’s devotion to Purdue sports gained national attention as he became an inspiration to the gold-and-black football and basketball teams while refusing to let cancer rob him of the collegiate experience.
The Carmel native was instrumental in helping to raise $1 million for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and his example encouraged Lai to launch a GoFundMe account and confirm a dollar-for-dollar match for everything he collects on his walk to Assembly Hall.
“So far I’m feeling OK,” said Lai on the highway just south of Linden. “The back of my knee hasn’t been bothering me for the last five miles, but I think it should be fine.”
A biting wind and freezing temperatures challenged the Delta Chi member who stepped outside his fraternity early Sunday morning to begin his walk.
“I’m wearing a waterproof jacket layer on top of everything but in the morning it was OK. The blizzard was fine.”
Along the way Lai said strangers have invited him into their homes to warm up.
His fraternity brothers pull alongside to offer food and sustenance on the road as he was hoping to spend his first night on the road south of Crawfordsville. Lai expects to be in the stands when Indiana tips off against Purdue Tuesday night at seven o’clock.
He still needs a ticket to the game.