Mukilteo boy brings awareness to veterans’ issues
There’s no moss growing on Tyee Eliason. A typical 10-year-old, he is in constant motion. He’s usually running, carrying an American flag on a staff.
Tyee stopped running last week, just long enough to rip off 22 pushups with a group of Mukilteo firefighters. It was part of an ongoing, national effort to bring attention to the tragedy of suicides among the nation’s veterans, now averaging 22 every day.
William Eliason, Tyee’s father, said he tried to teach his son at a very young age to honor and respect service members, veterans and first responders.
“I told him when he was little to shake their hand and say, ‘Thank you,’” Eliason said.
Tyee’s interest grew with him, and by age 6 he had become a “freedom runner,” running regularly with a flag, raising money for food banks, the Boys & Girls Club and other causes. “But his main mission is to support the military,” Eliason said.
Those efforts led to a friendship with a retired Army major, Maj. Justin Fitch, an Iraq veteran who had battled his own PTSD demons and nearly committed suicide while stationed there.
Fitch, who died of cancer in October 2015, had become active in the “Carry the Fallen” organization that works to raise awareness of veteran suicides.
Fitch had heard about Tyee’s fundraising efforts, and reached out to him. “My son became friends with him, and was inspired by him,” Eliason said.
Despite the loss of his friend, Tyee has continued to focus on bringing attention to veterans and their needs. Readers may be familiar with the latest effort, called the 22 Pushup Challenge, that has attracted participation by athletes, celebrities and others to remind Americans about the difficulties veterans are facing.
Tyee challenged Mukilteo firefighters to join him on Sept. 22 to do 22 pushups.
He was joined by Firefighter/EMT Jake Taylor, Firefighter/Paramedic Brian Roberts, Tyee, Firefighter/EMT Steve Walsh, and Captain Kirk Galatas, who did their best to keep up with the high-octane youth. “I don’t think I could’ve done 23,” Taylor said.
Fire Chief Chris Alexander said, “I am impressed by this young man’s passion for his mission. We are also acutely aware of the suicide issue due to the higher rate among first responders as well.
“Any efforts to bring these tragedies to light and work towards reducing them in our veteran and first responder ranks is appreciated.”
While the fire crew caught their breath, Tyee picked up his flag and started running again.
“His goal is to win a gold medal in the Olympics,” his father said. Tyee said he’s also thinking about joining the military when he’s old enough.
Meanwhile, he plans to keep running and raising awareness about veterans’ issues.
“When I grow up, I’ll probably do a run with the flag now and then,” Tyee said. “It makes me feel good, like I’m doing something right for the veterans and the military.”
And, with that, he was off, the flag blowing in the wind behind him.