Walking in the Fort Pierre Volunteer Fire Department on Dec. 2 with all the guns holstered and hoses rolled up, you wouldn’t know there was a fierce competition going on. While the winning team would only receive a large trophy and bragging rights, the 15th annual Tyler Wilcox Memorial Guns n’ Hoses Blood Drive in the capital area was on.
In 2002, Tyler Wilcox was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his left knee at age 16. Along his journey of battling cancer he endured three different surgeries and ended up having to use a great deal of donated blood.
“Everybody, I think, knows three or more cancer survivors, and I hope I can be one of the cancer survivors somebody else knows and I can inspire somebody else,” Wilcox said in 2002, written on a poster below his photo.
He required 250 units of blood or more and was worried how he would pay this back, said Tyler’s mother Jeri Wilcox. Tyler’s father asked the Fort Pierre Volunteer Fire Department if they could help, and the fire fighters decided they would help by having a blood drive.
It was 2005, and though the drive was set up, Tyler died before the drive began that year. But his drive to help others continues today.
“Even though he was young, he told his parents he wanted to do something to pay people back,” said Abbie Arneson, senior donor recruiter in charge of the blood drive.
In the first drive, they had 56 units of blood donated that year, Jeri said. Ten years ago, they made it into a competition and created the Guns n’ Hoses theme. Five years ago, they started running it for three days.
Since 2005 there have been 2,459 units of blood donated, with 385 first time donors. Last year, they recorded a personal best for the area, with 426 units of blood and 65 first time donors.
This year, the team has set a goal of 400 units but would like to beat last year’s record and receive 440 units of blood.
“People come in. You’ve got a firefighter, you’ve got someone from law enforcement, and they get to choose if they are gonna donate on behalf of the Guns or Hoses,” Arneson said. “If you don’t think there’s bragging rights. It’s for a lot of fun and they really get into it. It is fun.”
Last year the Guns beat the Hoses 226-195. This year it’s anybody’s game. And the race was a tight one when the drive opened up Monday afternoon.
“We went to grade school over here in Fort Pierre and played hockey together, both,” Will Mortenson, a classmate, teammate and friend of Tyler’s said.
Mortenson played defense and Tyler was a center. Mortenson admits he spent most of his game time being able to enjoy Tyler’s play from the bench, but it was admiration.
“I can still in my mind’s eye, clear as day, see the smile and enthusiasm he brought to his friends,” Mortenson said. “He brought the same graciousness and kindness to the coolest kid in the class and the kid who struggled the most. He was truly a really giving guy and he is still missed today.”
The blood drive will continue for two more days, Dec. 3 and 4, at the Pierre Faith Lutheran Church on N. Grand Avenue. Tuesday’s hours are 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday’s hours are from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.