featured in The Winston County Journal 10/7/20
By Andy Kanengiser
Motorcycle accidents resulted in more than 5,100 fatalities and accounted for more than 89,000 injuries across the USA in 2017. There were nearly 5,000 motorcycle riders killed in crashes a year later.
While people worry about safety issues, riding motorcycles was Tykeena Thompson’s passion as a Mississippi teenager. The Louisville High junior enjoyed playing on the Wildcats football team and strenuous workouts as well. But things went terribly wrong for the healthy 17-year-old on a November 2001 weekend in Carthage.
Trying to avoid hitting a car, his motorcycle went around the vehicle and slid off a road to change his life forever. The accident left the teen paralyzed from the waist down with two vertebrae in his back shattered.
Surgery at a Jackson hospital resulted in having metal rods and screws placed in his back. At the time of the accident, his girlfriend was pregnant with his son. Tykeena would undergo rehab at the Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital.
The accident on back roads in Carthage nearly two decades ago isn’t something the now 34-year-old dwells on. “When I got hurt, it changed my life,’’ he said. “I had to learn everything over again.’’
Despite being confined to a wheelchair and hard times that followed, the Winston County native didn’t give up on himself. While lacking a high school diploma, Tykeena knew he had family obligations to meet. Topping his list is helping his son, Xavier, who turns 18 in January.
A Louisville High student who loves soccer and plays snare in the school band, Xavier is the driving force in his father’s life. His dad didn’t want to sit at home and collect checks for his disability. He’s motivated to increase his income, pay bills and help pay for Xavier’s future college studies. In his heart, “I’ve always kept my son first.’’
With Xavier’s needs at the top of the priority list, changes came.
“I chose to go back to work,’’ Tykeena said. “I could make twice the money made sitting at home.’’
After two years in retail at the Pearl River casino near Philadelphia, he wanted something closer to home. He was hired at Hardwire, Inc., a manufacturing company specializing in electronics components. Hardwire contracts with Taylor Machine Works, among others, in Louisville.
Tykeena has spent two and one-half years with Hardwire and his work performance has been impressive since day one. "He's got a can-do attitude,'' says company co-owner David Forster. "He lets nothing get in his way...he's easy to please.''
Working in his wheelchair, Tykeena builds wiring harnesses for the company in Winston County. He inspires his colleagues daily and is well-liked. "He has an entourage concerned about his well-being,'' Forster said. "He wants to get stuff done.''
“The people I work with are amazing,’’ Thompson said. “They gave me a chance,’’ he added. “There’s nothing I can’t do.’’
Away from the plant, Thompson likes to get out of his wheelchair and work on cars. He also finds time to watch drag races at the Starkville Raceway, cheers for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and is a fan of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.
What’s next for Tykeena? He still hopes to eventually earn a GED.
He’s thankful to the people believing in him, and opening doors at a place where he inspires others. Thompson celebrates his 35th birthday on October 23. He counts his blessings daily, among them the help he received from the staff of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services along his challenging journey.
His former counselor, Dana Hisaw of the agency’s Louisville office, now serves as the district manager for the MDRS Office of Special Disability Programs.
“Tykeena is amazing,” says Hisaw. “He can do just about anything. I’ve seen him under a vehicle working on it. He doesn’t want to sit around, he wants to work. I’m so glad we are able to assist him in getting the things he needs so he can continue to live as independently as possible. He’s very nice, extremely outgoing and he really inspires me.”
“Dana keeps me moving,’’ says Tykeena. “She encourages me.’’
MDRS assisted Tykeena in many ways including getting his wheelchair, getting a ramp to help get in and out of his house, and a vehicle modification to meet his needs when driving.
Going to work daily at Hardwire became the dream job that lifted Thompson’s spirits. In the manufacturing business for two decades, Hardwire employs over 50 people at its facility along South Church Avenue.
As America marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, the Mississippi company is saluted for its outreach to employee Tykeena Thompson. The event celebrates the accomplishments of men and women with disabilities. The 75th annual event coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.