SULTAN — Tyler Deason was the one his family thought would be competing at the state high school wrestling tournament this weekend. But that was before the diagnosis.
Instead, it was his twin brother, Cody, who prior to this season hadn’t wrestled since 2015.
The Deason twins began participating in wrestling in the seventh grade at Sultan Middle School. As in many things, the twins — Tyler is 21 minutes older — did it together, but this time in a formal setting, instead of in the home of their parents, Matt and Maggie Deason.
Tyler was hooked from his first wrestling practice. He knew he had found his second athletic passion alongside football.
Wrestling didn’t appeal to Cody as much. He gave up the sport after that seventh-grade year. He decided to play basketball once the football season ended.
Besides, Cody said, he and Tyler didn’t have to do everything together.
“Wrestling was kind of Tyler’s thing,” Cody said Wednesday at Sultan High School, where the brothers are seniors.
But everything changed after a tumultuous summer and fall. Those months were marred by a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma — a rare form of cancer that attacks soft tissue around the bones — in Tyler’s right foot that prompted rounds of chemotherapy and eventually the amputation of the foot.
Tyler, who reached the championship match in the 220-pound weight class at the Class 1A (schools with enrollments between 214 and 461 students) state wrestling tournament last February, hasn’t been able to wrestle, play football or attend classes at Sultan High School during the 2019-20 school year as he battles cancer.
He won’t graduate with his brother and the rest of his classmates in the spring. Instead, he’s spending weeks at a time getting treatments and living with his mother, Maggie, in a family friend’s travel trailer in a section of the parking lot at Seattle Children’s Hospital reserved for RVs.
Those realities meant that for the first time since the 2014 season, it appeared there wouldn’t be a member of the Deason family wrestling at Sultan High School.
Anthony Hall, Cody and Tyler’s half-brother and Maggie’s son from a previous marriage, wrestled under Sultan Turks coach Garth MacDicken for four seasons. Hall graduated in 2017 after placing third at state in the Class 1A 170-pound weight class.
Tyler and Matt, who served as a volunteer assistant coach under his friend MacDicken, had tried to get Cody to turn out for wrestling throughout his time in high school, but he resisted.
By halfway through this past football season, with the effects of the chemotherapy at their worst for Tyler, Cody knew where he needed to be come winter sports season.
“When we found out that Tyler had cancer, and that he wouldn’t be able to wrestle this year, I felt like it wouldn’t be right for a person of this family not to wrestle,” Cody said. “I decided to carry that on.”
It turns out, wrestling would become his thing, too.
It began with simple soreness.
After a spring football practice in June of 2018, Tyler came home complaining of soreness in his right foot. Over the next few months, the pain would come and go. That pattern continued through football season and into wrestling season. The family figured it was just growing pains.
“It was never anything weird,” Matt Deason told The Herald this past fall. “It would only be sore for like a day or two and then it would be months before he brought it up again.”
Last June, Tyler came home from the high school weight room and again complained of foot soreness. The area that hurt was a bit red and warm to the touch, so his parents planned a visit to the walk-in clinic the next day.
Tyler and Maggie were told during that visit that they should be seen at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett in case Tyler was suffering from a bone infection. An X-ray revealed enough for doctors at Providence to refer him to Seattle Children’s for an MRI and a bone biopsy.
Those tests also seemed to point to a bone infection, but the doctors prepared the Deasons for a cancer diagnosis as the worst-case scenario.
Matt went in with Tyler a week later to get the final word. They were confident enough to toss their golf clubs in the back of the truck, thinking they might play a round before they headed home.
“We were pretty care-free, not really worried about it at all,” Matt said. “That ended up being a not very good appointment, and (the doctor) let us know it was cancer.”
Ewing’s sarcoma is most often diagnosed in children and teenagers. Treatment typically begins with chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the cancer.
Tyler began chemo treatments in mid-August, but the Deasons’ home in Gold Bar was just outside the 60-minute travel window allowed by Seattle Children’s for commuting to the hospital for treatment, which prompted the need for the travel trailer.
Tyler estimates that he’s done 10 rounds of chemotherapy. Midway through the course of treatment, he was presented with options to remove the cancerous cells — radiation therapy; a partial amputation of his right foot that would have removed the third, fourth and fifth toes along with the metatarsal bones going up into the foot; or a full amputation of the foot.
Though his family provided input, it was Tyler’s decision to have his foot completely amputated in a Nov. 6 operation. He said his athletic goals shaped his thinking.
He plans to return to Sultan High School next season to finish school, and is in the process of petitioning the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing body of high school athletics in the state, for a fifth year of eligibility so he can play football and wrestle next season wearing a prosthetic.
Sultan athletic director Scott Sifferman said he believes Tyler’s case fits the description of a hardship that would prompt a waiver being issued. The final word is expected in August.
“They said if you want to play sports, this would be the best route to go, and that kind of made it easy on me,” Tyler said. “Radiation or the other surgery would have left me fighting stress fractures in my foot for the rest of my life. Once I get trained up on my prosthetic, it’ll be just like having a foot. The technology they have is amazing, and I’ll be able to do everything I did before, with no pain.”
Thanks to a built-up tolerance to the side effects of chemotherapy, Tyler has been able to be around more often during wrestling season than he was for the Turks’ football season.
From the edge of Sultan’s tiny practice room, he has helped coach Cody and beamed with pride at his brother’s success.
Cody said Tyler has been able to simplify things for him, especially early on in the season when he was getting his bearings.
“When (Tyler’s) here, he helps a lot,” Cody said. “I can understand him more than anybody else. We’re the same size and have the same wrestling style, so I’ve kind of based what I do off of what he did. It worked pretty good for him.”
Cody’s power and athletic ability helped him alleviate the considerable disadvantage he faced in terms of technical wrestling skill early on, but he was a quick study.
“I had seen him kind of wrestle before,” MacDicken said of Cody. “I had seen him screw around in the (practice) room and wrestle with his brother last year and you could tell he knew some stuff. It wasn’t like a normal kid wrestling his senior year who had never done it before.”
MacDicken added he thought that when Cody finished third in the 285-pound weight class at the first tournament of his life — the Monroe Yardbrawl on Dec. 7, 2019 — the confidence he gained propelled him through the season.
Cody never finished lower than fourth in any of the Turks’ tournaments this season, and he came into this weekend’s state meet with a record of 27-16. And he developed his own style that takes advantage of his strengths (brute strength) and minimizes his weaknesses (relative lack of technical wrestling ability).
He finished second in the sub-regional tournament hosted by Sultan on Feb. 8, which qualified him for the Class 1A Region 1 tournament on Feb. 15 at Klahowya High School in Silverdale, where he needed to place in the top four to qualify for Mat Classic XXXII, the state wrestling championships that took place Friday and Saturday in Tacoma.
“Even if you never watched wrestling before, you could tell that Tyler is a better wrestler than me, just by the way he moves on the mat,” Cody said. “When I wrestle, all I’m worried about is putting the guy on his back. Tyler would be looking to break him down and get him on the mat first, then try to pin him.”
Tyler and Matt were the ones breaking down on Feb. 15. As Tyler’s fourth day of a five-day chemotherapy session was in progress, his dad called with the news that Cody was going to state.
Cody pinned Joseph Herrera of Klahowya in 38 seconds to seal a spot at the state tournament, and capped the day by pinning Granite Falls’ Jarad Barth to capture third place.
“My dad would call me after his matches, and I knew he was wrestling to get into the third- and fourth-place match (and clinch a trip to state). I was pretty anxious for that,” Tyler said. “My dad calls, and he’s crying. Then I was about to cry. It was pretty cool.”
When he got that call, Tyler was at Seattle Children’s. He has two chemotherapy sessions remaining, a one-day treatment Tuesday, and after a 10-day break, a final five-day treatment.
“It was a very emotional, big moment, just because of everything the family has been through,” MacDicken said. “I’ve known their family a long time, and a lot of people had watery eyes.”
“When I got to the hospital,” Cody said. “I damn near threw Tyler out the window, we were so excited.”
At this weekend’s 1A state tournament, Cody reached the semifinals of the 220-pound weight class by winning his first two matches Friday. That set up a Saturday semifinal matchup with Granger sophomore Gage Cook, who beat Tyler for the 1A championship at 220 pounds last season.
Cook pinned Cody in :32 seconds, but Cody rebounded to win his first consolation match Saturday, ensuring he would finish his only season of high school wrestling having placed in the top four of every tournament he entered.
He went on to lose to Nooksack Valley’s Levi Harlan 2-0 in the match to decide third and fourth places, and finished with a record of 30-18.
“I think he accomplished much more than what he set out to,” MacDicken said. “I’ve coached plenty of kids that wrestled for me for four years that never placed at state. I think once he takes a moment to reflect on it, he’ll realize that.”
After he graduates this spring, Cody plans to apply to be a lineman’s apprentice with the Snohomish County Public Utility District, but he’ll be supporting Tyler in his attempt to return to Sultan’s football and wrestling teams.
As his season wrestling in his brother’s honor drew to a close, Cody couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret for resisting joining Tyler in the wrestling room sooner.
“From the start, I’ve been wishing I did it earlier,” he said. “Wrestling makes you a better person all around.”
“When he told me he was going to wrestle, I was just ecstatic. The Deason trilogy is still going, you know? It was awesome,” Tyler said. “It sucks that it took him this long to figure out that he could wrestle, but him telling me that he was going to do it because I can’t this year … really cool. Really cool.”
Herald writer Zac Hereth contributed this report.