Roy Exum: A Survivor’s ‘How-To’ Book

Sunday, April 27, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It was three years ago on this very day when a magnetic college kid – Carson Tinker – hurriedly gathered his girlfriend, his three roommates, and his two rambunctious dogs together inside a 4-foot by 7-foot walk-in closet in Tuscaloosa. There had been reports of possible tornadoes in the area but Carson, already a proven football player at the University of Alabama, never was one to flinch. “You read about stuff like that but it always happens somewhere else,” he had reasoned.

His granddaddy, who was closely monitoring weather reports, finally screamed via cellphone that Carson should immediately obey his orders. So there the kids and the dogs were, huddled in the closet, with Carson determined to make everybody laugh. “Then the power snapped off. Darkness. Tension. Shallow breathing. Quiet. And then … the furthest thing from quiet,” his fabulous new book reads at its beginning.

* * *

“Before we felt it or saw it, we heard it. I remember thinking – ‘Wow, it really does sound like a train, just like everybody said.’ But the whole time, I’m still thinking it’ll all be over in a few minutes: ‘It’s not going to hit us, it’s not going to hit us …’

“But the noise level was increasing by the second. Then the house started shaking. We heard popping, rumbling, loud booms. Finally I realized this was real. “I grabbed Ashley (girlfriend) and held her tight. I kept telling her, ‘It’s going to be Ok, it’s gonna be OK. We are going to be OK.”

“I remember her saying, ‘Carson, I’m scared.’

“Again I tried to relieve her anxiety by making her laugh. The last thing I remember is her laughing.

“We heard the house cracking and coming apart, windows crashing, walls tumbling. Then, just like that, the roof was ripped off right over our heads, and the darkness of the closet was suddenly flooded with gray, rainy daylight. I could feel us being picked up. It was like having one of those dreams like you are falling, except just the opposite. Falling up, I held onto Ashley with all my might as we were sucked out of the house.

“The next thing I remember is standing some 75 yards away, across the street in a field, screaming Ashley’s name. Exactly what happened in between – or how much time had passed – I’ll never really know.”

* * *

The name of the book is “A SEASON TO REMEMBER – Faith In the Midst Of The Storm.” Tommy Ford, one of my longtime friends, helped Carson write it. Tommy, quite an athlete in his day, is a veteran wordsmith and also an Assistant Athletic Director at Alabama. He got me an advance copy (BH Publishing Group, 190 pages, $14.95) under the promise it would give a first-person view of the EF4 tornado that had ravaged a big chunk of Tuscaloosa before the storm came north and battered the Chattanooga area on April 27, 2011.

But no, while the mesmerizing book tells about how Carson’s beloved Ashley was later found among the fatalities and how their two dogs – Josey and B – were buried by his teammates, the book is in fact about a far greater victory than the 2011 season that is included in its pages.

Carson Tinker and his Crimson Tide teammates won the national championship in the fall after the fatal springtime storm – did they ever -- but the reason this book should be on every table is because it very specifically tells us how to handle grief, overcome great sorrow, and resume our life’s quest to “Be A Blessing.”

Oh, lordy me! The book should be required in schools, Sunday School classes, prisons and wherever there is crisis or a will to overcome it. While the chances are good you’ll never be in a tornado, it is a guarantee that crisis will often be a caller in each of our lives. Carson Tinker just became an invaluable source of what we should do, where to turn.

Whether it is the loss of a loved one or a missing limb, financial failure, desertion, despair or any other possible obstacle the devil might use to take your view away from the bulls-eye, I believe this book offers one of the best ways to find the blessing in a tragedy. Trust me, Carson lost everything he had that he loved except that which he cherished most – his faith.

With neither braggadocio nor shame, Carson tells us early his deep Christian belief, coupled with Nick Saban’s magical Crimson Tide “family,” and Tuscaloosa’s unquenchable spirit as “Titletown” are the elements that helped him put one bruised foot in front of the other, to stay the course, to fight through the deep heartbreak and earn not only a leader’s role for that championship crystal trophy but eventually a spot playing for the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars.

How hard was it? Let’s ask an expert. “We always talk as a team that you are not defined by your circumstances or adversity; you are defined by how you come through it and move forward,” fabled coach Nick Saban wrote in the book’s Foreword. “I don’t know if anyone had to overcome more than Carson. Dealing with the loss of a loved one, dealing with physical injuries, he had to decide what path he was going to take.

“From where he was lying in the hospital bed when we visited him after the tornado, to the point he is in his life now, it has been a remarkable journey. Through the tragedy of the tornado, Carson probably lost the most,” wrote Saban, “but he has also given the most back.”

A two-year starter as “long snapper” on Alabama’s team, Carson is now regarded as a hero. “View this storm through the eyes of someone who could have floundered, but rather chose to flourish because of his faith,” said John Croyle, the former star whose Big Oak Ranch is now world-renowned. “If you have ‘it’ you can’t hide it. If you don’t, you can’t fake it. Carson Tinker showed all of us just how deep ‘it’ runs in his blood after the tornado.”

So I’m telling you – get this book. Read ‘it.’ Savor ‘it.’ Believe ‘it.’ And then live ‘it’ because Carson Tinker’s dream is that you too will “Be A Blessing.”

* * *

NOW ON AMAZON: “A Season To Remember” by Carson Tinker with Tommy Ford, will be released to the general public this Thursday, May 1, but copies of the book – both in paperback and for electronic readers – can be ordered in advance on the site for delivery that day.

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