When Tyler Andersen’s parents drop him off at the Provo MTC tomorrow, he will be in a place where he can’t watch on television the Olympics that he thought he’d be participating in. He won’t watch the people who have become family to him compete without him. He’ll have to write home to get the stats and find out who won.
At 6’7′, Tyler is a hunk of a well-muscled guy who stands out in any gathering and looks like he’s spent the last eight years training with an eye to when he could step into the Olympic spotlight. He looks that way because that is exactly what he has done.
Tyler says, “I decided to go on a mission when I was very young. Of course, I figured I would need to grow a foot or two. [He did.] I knew I didn’t want to live a life without the rich blessings and experience that comes from being a full-time missionary.”
That part was a given, a decision made early. Something else happened early, too. When he was 11, he started sliding luge where his natural talent for the sport emerged. He found himself first in a local club, than on the USA Luge Jr. National Team and from there started competing internationally at 15.
Soon his life revolved completely around his sport. He bested competitions and awards came. He spent four summers in a row at Lake Placid in intense training.
“My size always helped,” he said. “Luge is a really big mental sport. I survived on that. It’s all about being entirely quiet and silent while you are going at 85 miles an hour. You have to stay perfectly relaxed and drive the best lines at those speeds. Getting your mind is the right place is critical.
Training for him involved both weight training and dedicated work to improve the starts. “The start is the only place to gain speed,” he said. “The rest of the course is just trying not to lose speed.”
He got it, learned what it took to win. In 2012 he was both a gold and bronze medalist in the Youth Olympic Games. He was a bronze medalist in the Junior World Cup in Winterberg, Germany. He became one of the handful of eite on the USA Luge Sr. National Team. His goal was the XXII Winter Olympic Games held this February in Sochi.
When President Thomas S. Monson announced the change in age requirements for missionaries in the fall of 2012, Tyler and his parents sat down to talk about it. Together they decided it would make sense for him to compete in the Olympics and leave for his mission soon after. It made sense.
He said, “What didn’t make sense, however, was what actually happened. I spent this last summer training at the Olympic Training Center in New York. There, my doubles’ partner, Anthony Espinoza and I trained daily and made drastic improvements from the previous season, which was promising, as we were the 3rd overall jr. team in the previous year’s world cup standings. I went from 110 to a peak of 121 kilograms, and we tested better than ever. We even won the National Start championships. Our sled was set up and looked beautiful with her new paint job, we even did some wind tunnel testing. Our sliding technique was in great shape. Everything was set.
“Everything. except for my heart,” Tyler said.
“Being in the Olympics was always the goal. That was the pinnacle, the reason that you would go through all this for your sport. That was the reason that kept me in the whole time. When we were in training, my luge partner, Anthony and I, put an Olympics decal on the ceiling, so every morning we’d wake up to that.
“There was always a push to slide. I always knew it was what I was supposed to be doing. Even when it didn’t make sense, I at least knew it was right. It pushed me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be pushed. I grew, both physically and spiritually. It had always been different and exciting.
“But this time it was different,” he said, “I’d finish sliding each day, and instead of being consumed by thoughts of how to improve my drives or my technique, I was thinking of what my life was missing. I could stay here and possibly go to the Olympics, but for what? I’ve already won the Youth Olympics. I’ve had the chance to travel Europe and be interviewed. It wasn’t me anymore. I felt stagnant.
“I continued sliding,” Tyler said, “and even though we had everything set, because I wasn’t set, we weren’t sliding as well as we should have. I felt I was doing pretty well, but the times were slow. I was having strange issues in different parts of the track that I’d never had before.
“I started to realize, it was God telling me I had a choice to make. I could choose to stick around for the Olympics and then go on my mission, or I could choose to leave all that right now and go on my mission a little bit sooner.
“As I was choosing what was best for me, I realized that in this situation, it would be a lot easier to ride it out with the luge. I’ve never considered myself a quitter, but it was interesting that in this case, quitting was the more difficult option. I realized that there was a difference between quitting and giving up. If I stuck it out, I would be giving up on myself.
“The hardest part of deciding to leave was to leave my doubles partner. Anthony Espinoza,” Tyler said. We’ve known each other for 8 years and we had been sliding together as a team for over three years. Since I was 11 years old he has been on the club teams with me. I felt a tremendous responsibility to be there with him. I was deciding for him as well.
“We had set aside so much time, set aside so many things. We’d moved away from home. Our school life had been compromised. We had set aside so much to be with each other on that sled. I decided to leave him and I’m still holding on to part of that burden.
A reasonable question to ask Tyler might be “Why?” We’re not talking about putting off a mission altogether or putting off a mission for a year. Couldn’t he have participated in the Olympics and then gone on a mission a few weeks later? As it is, he will be in the MTC during the Olympics.
“It’s been a battle for me,” he admits, “wishing I could understand more of everything.” He said, however, that he talked to his Dad about his decision to leave the sliding for an immediate mission and his Dad said it was important for him to listen to make his decision. After Tyler had made the decision to go immediately on his mission, his dad acknowledged that, despite all the years of expenditure of time and resources, he felt the same way. His mom felt that way, too.
“They weren’t in it the same way I was,” said Tyler, “but the Spirit was able to work on all of us and for whatever reason, I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
Of course, Tyler has thought a lot about why he is being asked to skip the Olympics and he said, “I still can’t exactly tell you why. I know I’ve made the right decision in it, but what I’ve learned is that even though I don’t fully understand God’s plan for us or the promptings he gives us, it is important that we listen to them and take a step.
“All the time I wish I had the answer. It has been a battle with my wishing I could understand more of everything. I’ve found that knowledge is a blessing that comes from experience and the best kind of experience you can give yourself is by being obedient,”
He said, “I know that there is a work in Mexico that I needed to be there sooner to do. I know that from this experience I learned how to better listen to myself and listen to God. There could not have been a better, clearer way for me to learn this.
“I know that God has a plan for all of us in that he speaks with all of us individually. I know that as we exercise faith and listen to the knowledge he gives us daily, God will, in a sense, rearrange the ground underneath us so that we will be put in the right place and take the next step toward Him. I know that God speaks to us through our prayers and through our feelings and through the scriptures. The more we can listen in all three of these areas, the more opportunity we’ll find for ourselves.”
So Tyler won’t be in the Olympics. He won’t view the Olympics on TV, but where the mission is concerned which he begins tomorrow he says, “I’m preparing. I’m ready.”