My name is Dana Herrs. I know what you are thinking…who is this person? I’m certain that anybody reading this hasn’t heard of me. It’s because I haven’t accomplished anything in the world of powerlifting or coaching or in any college or professional sports of any kind. The reason that I’m writing this is because I lost my nineteen-year-old son, Tyler, in a swimming accident on June 9, 2007. I thought of this idea shortly after it happened, but I was unable or willing to sit down and put this on paper.

Let me give you some brief history as it relates to my story. When I was growing up, I had very little self-esteem and fewer friends. I was at best, on a good day, an average kid, not athletic, not very smart. It wasn’t until sometime in my sophomore year in high school where I found my passion.

In high school physical education, they separated the class into two weightlifting programs. The athletes followed a program revolving around the squat, bench, and power clean. The non-athletes lifted the universal equipment. I was just like every other non-athletic kid, just doing just enough not to get yelled at by the physical education teacher. The athletes lifted in groups of three and would rotate through the exercises together. That year, there was an odd number so my teacher picked me to lift with the athletes. This changed my life to say the least. I was hooked!

Through high school, I lifted weights constantly. I got up at 5:30 a.m. to lift at the school at 6:00 a.m. I lifted again at 8:00 a.m. for body development. I then got a pass to lift at study hall and again after school. I couldn’t get enough. My existence revolved around lifting weights. I started to go out for sports, which helped with my self-esteem issues.

In my junior year, I got injured during football practice. I tore some ligaments in my shoulder. The only thing that I was concerned about was my benching. My coach just didn’t understand why I was more concerned about lifting than football. Training at such a high volume wasn’t exactly the right thing to do, but I did learn a lot along the way. I believe that you learn more from what you do wrong than from what you do right.

I continued to lift after high school, but I fell on hard times. At one time, I was working three
different jobs to make ends meet. So I took some time off from lifting. It was then that I met my biggest supporter—my wife. When I first met her, I thought she was way out of my league. She had a child, Tyler, who was four at the time. Tyler and I hit it off right away, probably because I acted like that age a lot. We moved in together shortly after we met. If you ask my wife, it was because I never left. If you ask me, it was because that was where I belonged—with her and Tyler.

For several years, times were tough. I continued to work all of the time and never had enough money. In 1997, things took a turn for the better. My wife and I had another son, Brett. I started my career as a firefighter with the fire department. This was something that I had wanted to do for quite some time, and I had finally made it. Things were definitely getting better. We have always said that our lives get better and better each year.

I continued to lift over the years, even opening a small gym in my town with a population of 1200. During that time, we raised Tyler to do things for himself. We taught him not to expect things to be handed to him. He earned his own money through high school and into college. During high school, he worked for a swine operation where he worked weekends.

The owners allowed Tyler to come in the mornings during the summer to work out with the team. During the summer months, he got up at 5:30 a.m., was at work by 6:00 a.m., and worked until 8:00 p.m. He lifted weights at the school for an hour and then went back to work when he was done.

At Tyler’s funeral, his high school coach talked about one morning’s weightlifting session. Tyler was lifting (he never missed a workout). When he was finished, he went back to work. What the coach didn’t know until one of the other kids told him was that Tyler had been at work since 2:00 a.m. at the swine operation working with the hogs. He had come in to workout and was going back to work. What the coach couldn’t believe was that Tyler never told him. In this day and age of everybody saying, “Look at me,” this was rare.

Tyler excelled in all sports. He played football, basketball, and track all four years of high school. His senior year, he received four medals in the state track meet. Tyler did what it took to succeed. He graduated high school making the honor roll and received a scholarship to Fort Hays, Kansas, to participate in track.

When my wife and I made decisions that would affect the family, we always put family first. My place of work is a 70-mile drive away. The reason that we didn’t move closer was that we lived in a small town at the time. While small towns have the same problems as cities, the percentage of their occurrence is less. We teach our children what is right and what is wrong. Work hard, play later, and surround yourself with good people. By doing these things, the risk is still there that something could go wrong, but it is less. We raised Tyler and we are raising Brett with no regrets. We are doing what we think is right.

On June 9, 2007, my life changed forever. We got the news around 10:00 p.m. Tyler and his friends had gone to a lake to campout overnight. At this lake are several rock formations along the water’s edge. They had been diving into the water for a while when Tyler did a one and a half somersault into the lake (Tyler was an exceptional and very strong swimmer). When he hit the water, his head snapped back, rendering him unconscious. When he came up out of the water, it appeared that he was gasping for air. We know now that it was not a conscious attempt to breathe.

Tyler did not suffer, which helps a little in trying to cope with the situation. All of his friends dove in after him but were unsuccessful in locating him. They tried repeatedly until they were physically unable to stand. Divers came in and were able to locate him. My wife said something to me a couple days after this happened. She said, “I was glad that you were not there because you would have kept trying until you died.”

As a father, you try to protect your kids from any and all harm. I still feel guilty because I wasn’t there. Unless you have experienced this for yourself, words can’t describe the emotions. If you have gone through this, you know what I’m talking about. Everyone deals with it in their own way. But this is how it went for me…

I didn’t sleep or eat for days. One of the things that you think about is that this can’t be happening. He will come through the door at any time and everything will be better. But Tyler didn’t come through the door and still hasn’t. All I wanted to do was shut down. I kept trying
to hide from everyone who came by. My biggest concern was for my other son. Now, he will grow up without his big brother, and no matter what you do, you can’t take away his pain.

I’m 38-years-old, and I struggle with it every day. Can you imagine what an 11-year-old has to do to get by? Time stops for you, but the rest of the world keeps moving. Arranging your 19-year-old son’s funeral sucks. I don’t wish this on anybody.

Living in our small town, everyone knows everyone else. We had overwhelming support from our community. The funeral was held in the high school in our town. I had heard somewhere before that a person’s worth is measured by the amount of people who attend the funeral. The funeral home director said that they lost count after 1100 people. People from all over came to show their respects to Tyler.

Now, what does the title mean? It is easy to find the negative in something and difficult to find the positive…better than some, worse than others. It means I have it better than some people and I have it worse than others. Yes, I did lose one son, but I still have another son. There are
people who have lost an entire family in one brief instance. I still have the rest of my family. There are people who have to deal with a family member dying a slow and painful death. Tyler died a quick and painless death. He didn’t know what was going on. I can bitch about what I don’t have and about what has happened, but that is the easy way and not a good example.

I could complain about my lifting. How come my numbers are so low? There are several people who would love to have these numbers. When it comes down to it, we should be grateful for what we have, not focus on what we don’t have.

EliteFTS has several people who I respect. For example, Chad Aichs. I can’t imagine the hell that he goes through with his sleep problems. Jim Hoskinson. Imagine the obstacles to overcome what he has. Dave Tate. All of the injuries that he has endured just to add five pounds to achieve a new PR. I would like to meet him someday. He has done what it takes to succeed. And apparently he likes the Rocky movies, too.

Dave Tate wrote recently about his lifting and the weight room, how it was his place to get away. Lifting weights has always been my release, my time to focus on one thing, not twenty things. Shortly after Tyler's death, while I was lifting, a phrase came to my mind. Prove yourself worthy. It doesn’t make sense until I explain it.

Prove yourself worthy applies to whatever you want it to. If you say that you want to be a good father, do whatever is required to make it happen. If you want to get an Elite total, do whatever is required. It is easy to talk about something or say how great you are. It is quite another to actually accomplish it.

If you remember anything from this article, remember two things—there are thousands of people who would love to have your problems because their problems are so much worse and enjoy every day to the fullest. Quit talking about it and just make it happen.