- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

CULLMAN, Ala. (AP) - Tyler and Trevor Parrish were born to race.

Actually, it might be more appropriate to say they were born racing.

The first twin out of the womb? Tyler. By a whole minute.

And he’s not one to let his “little” brother forget it.

Same goes for the title of fastest on the track. The venue this past weekend was the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center, where the Decatur 21-year-olds vied for RC racing glory alongside some pretty stiff competition at the seventh annual Alabama Manufacturer Shootout (AMS).

The Parrish brothers aren’t so different from the rest of the field except for one major distinction - they control their wheels while perched upon a pair of their own.

Tyler and Trevor have muscular dystrophy, which has relegated the two to electric wheelchairs. As Tyler put it, “we lack protein in our muscles, so every single muscle in our body is constantly in a battle of keeping strength.”

The incurable disease is extremely rare in twins and has left the Parrishes without much mobility. Trevor has slightly more than his sibling, though both are practically limited to operating what’s placed in their laps.

Even then, the going isn’t easy. With a few tweaks and homemade accessories, however, they’ve managed to make holding and using RC car controllers almost second nature.

That’s good news for a natural-born racer like Tyler, who dabbled a bit in mini bikes as a kid before becoming too weak to continue.

“This gave me that racing back in a way,” he said. “Racing really is in my blood. I love it a lot. I don’t know what else I would do.”

EARLY SIGNS

Tyler and Trevor were born in St. Louis to Mark and Rhonda Parrish. Mark said there was no inkling either had muscular dystrophy until the family moved to northern Alabama when he was relocated with Boeing for the Delta II and IV rockets. Rhonda noticed Tyler seemed a little slow on some of his movements, so they had him tested.

The evaluation called for Tyler to lay on his back and simply get up. While most children jump up like grasshoppers, Tyler had to grip his thighs along the way to fully rise - a sure indicator of the affliction. A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

Six months later, the family went through the same process with Trevor.

“It was absolutely devastating,” Mark said. “As far as you know, you have all these plans of the way life is going to be. We just had to readjust everything. That was pretty much it.”

Normalcy mostly ensued for the next five years. Tyler and Trevor started out on mini bikes at age 5 and quickly transitioned from training wheels to just two tires. Trevor got in about two years of racing - his muscular dystrophy has advanced about a year and a half slower than Tyler’s - picking up numerous first-place prizes before switching over to four-wheelers with his dad and brother.

Mark said most with muscular dystrophy end up in a wheelchair by age 12. For Tyler, it was 10. For Trevor, it was right on line with the average.

THEIR OWN PATHS

Both went to Austin High and graduated in 2012, but not before buying their first RC car from a hobby shop as juniors. Over four years later, the sport is more than just a hobby to the Parrishes.

To Trevor, who at least got a short taste of motorcycle racing, it’s the closest he’ll get to replicating the rush.

“Maybe not physically, but mentally in your mind, it’s pretty much the same thing,” he said. “It’s actually amazing that we can even do this and be decent at it. Being in wheelchairs, it’s much harder for us.”

Tabbing Tyler an RC enthusiast doesn’t even begin to do it justice. He unabashedly loves the sport and everything about it, from the intricacies of fine-tuning a tiny car nearly as finicky as its full-sized counterpart to embracing the communication required to chase sponsorships and break free from the bubble that led to his past depression.

Faith has played a major part in Tyler’s rebound from said rut. So too, though, has RC racing.

When Tyler’s car takes off, he’s able to tune out the otherwise worrisome struggle of living with muscular dystrophy.

“This is my thing. This is my fun time,” he said. “We deal with a lot, but I don’t really let it get me down. I feel fine with what I have. I’m all right with it. I’ve accepted it. This is what I do - and I have fun doing it.

“Some people may see a handicapped person and say, ‘Oh, you race that? You did that?’ I like doing it and proving to people that I’m not just some kid in a wheelchair. I can carve my own path and prove to people how good I am, that I’m worth being sponsored. That I’m worth doing what I do.”

BIG DREAMS

Acquiring a major sponsorship is next on Tyler’s checklist. Doing so, he said, “would be the biggest thing for me.”

The main reason is the amount of money it takes to maintain a competitive RC car. The family’s first ride was a “little cheapo” that still rang up at around $300. These days, Tyler pulls up at each track wielding a 1/8 Nitro Buggy with a $500 engine and total package worth about $1,600.

And that’s not counting cosmetics, tires, fuel, entry fees and travel, among other expenses.

Without a job - his physical limitations obviously make it difficult to land one - Tyler currently has to rely on his parents’ extra money, as well as contributions from his GoFundMe account and a couple small sponsorships, to cover the costs.

That’s why catching the eye of a major sponsor would be such a big deal.

“I love it, and I would love to do it the rest of my life,” Tyler said. “That’s what I’m going to do - I’m going to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time racer.”

PICTURE PERFECT

While Trevor openly concedes his brother is better behind an RC wheel, there’s another area where Tyler has no problem redirecting the props.

“He’s really good at photography,” Tyler said. “Amazing, to be honest.”

Trevor is indeed a whiz with a camera. He can take a mean pic of the action on the track, but his true specialty is capturing the beauty of the great outdoors.

Though physically unable to use the viewfinder, Trevor has perfected the art of snapping a sunset at the ideal moment and lights up when discussing the bald eagles and other wildlife he’s had the fortune of finding in his shutter.

“There’s just something really peaceful about it,” Trevor said. “Just showing God’s grace in what He’s made.”

DAD KNOWS BEST

Mark wholeheartedly backs every endeavor his sons choose to tackle. When it comes to RC racing, he’s their faithful mechanic, pit crew and biggest cheerleader - all without complaint.

He reserves those for tracks that don’t accommodate the handicapped, which is about half they’ve come across. The most frequent issue is the literal lack of a level playing field, with stands for wheelchair racers - if made at all - sitting nowhere near as high as those for the rest of the field.

That puts Tyler and Trevor at a clear disadvantage.

Not that they need much help in the department.

“They say, ‘Oh, come on. You’re just here to have fun,’” Mark recalled of conversations with track representatives. “Look, we don’t come to have a good time. We can go to the park for that. We come here because we want to win.

“It’s like having your kids run cross country or having your kids play T-ball. Why? So they can lose? No. No one teaches your kids that, so don’t discriminate my kids because they’re in a wheelchair and they should just come and have fun. That’s insulting.”

The Parrishes had no such problems this past weekend at the Ag Center. In fact, Mark said AMS 7.0 event organizer Chris Cassidy and his crew even went out of their way to bring in two corners because Tyler has trouble turning his neck to see the whole track.

“We’re not trying to run down the sport. We’re trying to encourage people to do the right thing,” Mark said. “If you think you’re going to make a giant pot from building ramps for the handicapped, you’re not. But it’s the right thing to do. How could you not?

“And when you build it, they’ll come. But if you don’t, they can’t.”

___

Information from: The Cullman Times, http://www.cullmantimes.com

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