News Story

Former Olympian Overcomes Serious Injury

The former shooting guard for the 1984 and 1988 Canadian Olympic Men’s Basketball team and University of Calgary’s Greatest Dino of All Time Karl Tilleman knows a thing or two about taking opportunities and developing strategies even from the sidelines. Tilleman, currently serving a three year mission with his wife Holly (nee Walker) in Vancouver, British Columbia, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently conducted his duties from his hospital bed after sustaining a paralyzing central spinal cord syndrome injury.

After teaching a missionary discussion to an investigator, Tilleman was severely bitten by a seemingly calm Bull Mastiff. In characteristic style, he dismissed it and attempted to carry on with his visit. He lost consciousness from the loss of blood and shock and fell face first into a concrete wall.  The fall snapped his neck backward, damaging his spinal cord, and left him unconscious until emergency personnel arrived to revive him. For the next seventeen days in the hospital, Tilleman was initially paralyzed from the neck down.  At one point the prognosis was not only would his mission be cut short but also that he would not walk again. When Tilleman heard this he just determined to focus on what he could do and not worry about anything else.

Tilleman’s typical day as a mission president begins early in the morning and is spent interviewing, supervising and training the 175 Mormon missionaries for whom he is responsible, and working with new members of the Church. While in hospital, Tilleman not only attempted to continue that routine, but also underwent extensive physiotherapy to regain his ability to walk and his functional fitness. He even needed to learn how to use a fork again. “King Karl” as he is affectionately known with Calgary Dino’s fans now known as President Tilleman relied again upon that characteristic ability to face a challenge with prayer and with his work ethic.

Dan Vanhooren, coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Calgary was not surprised to hear how the former University of Calgary player pushed through the grueling physiotherapy as well as continued his long hours working with the missionaries. “Karl is a winner. How he does something is how he does everything. Look at the guy. He gets it done. Sports, church, career. He has succeeded in multiple areas.”

President Tilleman credits much of his recovery to the constant and loving care that his wife, Holly, has provided him.  Holly acknowledged that this has been an incredible experience for them. “When we were just learning about the injury we worried what this might mean for Karl.” She is so appreciative for the outpouring of support from the missionaries, former teammates, colleagues and neighbours. “Their faith and support has meant so much to us. It’s a miracle that Karl has been able to return to his work.” She said that recently he picked up a basketball and started shooting. The kid who earned the Greatest Dino of All Time still had it. Tilleman said of his days playing basketball, “We had a feeling we could compete with anyone in the world, that we could accomplish anything in life.” His team philosophy continues to motivate President Tilleman even when he was sidelined for a time on his current mission.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.