Wayman’s Way

Wayman Tisdale shows off his new prosthetic leg Tuesday in Oklahoma City at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics & Research

Michael Kinney

When Wayman Tisdale first burst onto the scene, he was a parade All-American at Booker T. Washington High on his way to become a star basketball player at the University of Oklahoma. He showed skills on the court that have not been duplicated in the state since.

That was 25 years ago.

Now, after the 44-year-old had his right leg amputated above the knee Aug. 25, the former college and NBA star is just looking forward to conquering something a little bit lower scale.

“I want to climb a flight of steps,” Tisdale said. “Just do some of the normal things. Be able to go outside and walk around again. That seems little to normal people, but that is a big thing. To be able to just go outside and walk a hill or walk around on my farm. Be independent. That’s a huge thing. Otherwise I have just been sitting around, which is no fun at all.”

Tisdale lives in Tulsa with his wife, four children and granddaughter Bailey. He was in Oklahoma City Tuesday getting fitted for a prosthetic leg at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics — Research. He is almost three months out from having his right leg removed due to bone cancer, which was found after he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg.

“Once I came out, what I realized more than anything I was still the same person after the surgery as I was when I went into the surgery,” Tisdale said. “I am just maybe a limb short. It’s the same Wayman.”

Tisdale first visited Sabolich exactly a month after having his surgery. His progress has even amazed Sabolich, who has worked in the prostheitcs field for years.

“For someone that soon after surgery, he has a great attitude,” Sabolich said. “A can-do spirit. You don’t want to dampen that because maybe he’s going to overdo it because he really shouldn’t be moving as fast as he is. His limb is holding up, which is a great credit to his surgeon, who did a fabulous job on his leg. He is already walking with a cane. He is at least three, four, five months ahead of schedule.”

Tisdale made the decision to amputate the leg to ensure the cancer would not return. But it was a difficult decision for a person who has been active his entire life. From his playing days to the vast amount of traveling he does an accomplished jazz musician, Tisdale is not one to sit around.

“I think the main thing with the career part of it was having so much success and being able to overcome so much,” Tisdale said. “Then you come to this and I start to question myself and question my body. I have always been able to overcome. I just look at it as another challenge. This is another thing I must defeat. The trickiest part has been trusting the leg. Just trusting that it has me. When you learn how to walk, it’s totally different. It’s learning how to walk again.”

What has helped Tisdale get through this ordeal has been the attitude he takes with him every day. Even though he admits some days are tough, he will not allow himself to get into a funk.

“I have seen so many e-mails and seen so many clips that people have sent me,” Tisdale said. “There are millions and millions of people that are a lot worse off than what my condition is. So for me to sit around and have a pity party, I would look crazy. I am all right, and I am going to be able to help somebody else down the line.”

Tisdale, who played in the NBA for 12 years, said he has gotten pep talks from everyday people and NBA superstars.

“I talk to a lot of amputees,” Tisdale said. “That was a big help. I even talked to Magic Johnson this morning and he was on the phone encouraging me. And I know what he has been through and what he had to give up at the peak of his career to fight a disease. Hearing from different people that have gone down this road really helped me out.”

But according to Sabolich, the will to fight the disease and overcome the obstacles of the amputation was something that has always been inside Tisdale.

“Wayman is a fighter,” Sabolich said. “He feels he can get through anything. Look at what he has accomplished in his own personal life. For this to happen to him, although tragic, it’s one more life hurdle for him. And he just attacks it like he attacks anything else.”

Even though he jokes about it, Tisdale knows he will never be able to run the basketball court the way he did at OU. But those are not the goals he has set for himself.

“I recently had my pond put in my back yard,” Tisdale said. “It looks like a little lake. We named it Bailey Lake. It’s named after my granddaughter. I just want to go there and sit with her and fish. Just simple things.”

This story was written in 2008 shortly before Wayman Tisdale passed away from Cancer. 

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