BRIDGEVILLE — When anyone loses a loved one, there’s a pervasive feeling of helplessness.
There’s nothing that can be done that will bring the deceased back. There’s usually precious little that can be done to ease the pain of the loss beyond the passage of time. It’s a natural feeling to want to do something — anything.
For former Pitt wide receiver Zach Challingsworth that desire has been strong following the tragic loss of his brother Tyler in February. Tyler passed away in February from a heroin overdose, and while nothing Zach can do will bring his brother back, he does hope that by shedding light on his brother’s story, he can help other families from suffering the same pain his had.
That’s what prompted Zach to speak publicly about his brother’s death to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June. But he’s not stopping at that. Zach and his parents have organized the Tyler Challingsworth Foundation of Hope in order to keep his brother’s memory alive and create more awareness for the ongoing opioid epidemic in the area.
“We didn’t just want to leave it at what it was,” Zach Challingsworth said. “It was such a sad tragedy and we wanted to turn it into a positive thing, give back and help some other people that need it or might not know how to interact with addiction. Coming from my family, that was the first time we’ve ever had anyone that had done anything like that. We’d never been around it before.
“You don’t really know how to interact with it. You don’t know how to handle the situation. We decided to speak up about it and tell people the truth and what was going on because that’s really the only way to help people. So many people just hold it in. They’re embarrassed to talk about. Which is understandable. It isn’t an easy thing to talk about. We just didn’t want to have him die in vain and just have him be another person that dies from heroin.”
The Challingsworth family has organized a charity golf tournament to be played at Quicksilver Golf Club on Saturday, July 15. The fact that sports are involved in the fundraising is fitting. Zach and Tyler were teammates on the South Fayette football team and for Zach, many of his memories of his brother are tied to athletics.
“We have a scholarship at South Fayette set up that we’re giving to a football player that resembles the same characteristics that he did when he was on the field,” Zach said. “We’re giving back to homeless shelters, food banks and drug rehab facilities. We’re looking at some of the smaller ones that don’t get the corporate funding that the larger ones do.”
Zach stepped away from football last year in order to be with his brother as he battled his addiction. He may return to football some day. He still has another year of eligibility remaining and could choose to use it this fall if he’d like. A finance major at Pitt, he’d also like to get into the business side of sports some day. But for right now, he’s just glad that his position as an athlete at Pitt has helped him get his brother’s story to a wider audience.
“The platform that I was put on to play football at Pitt has helped this tremendously,” he said. “That’s kind of the sad thing, too, because this has happened to so many people that weren’t on the platform that I was on. It’s not even like I was a big name on the team, but it’s sad that other people go though this every day and — it’s not that people aren’t willing to help — they just don’t know. I’m really trying to use that platform to shine a light on it, that this is happening to regular people in everyone’s lives.”
In the three weeks since Tyler’s story was first publicized, Zach said that he’s already gotten many responses and reactions.
“I’ve had a lot of people call me,” Zach said. “I’ve had a lot of people that I have no idea who they are that have gone through the same thing. This one woman in particular said that her niece was going through the same thing and didn’t know how to handle it. Hearing our story gave them the courage to talk about it with other people and that they needed help. I’ve already seen it help people’s lives, which is awesome.
“That’s why I wanted to do it. That’s why my parents want to be involved. We can’t bring him back, but we can be involved in another family not losing a family member. That’s really what we’re trying to do. The amount of people that have contacted us is really unreal. The support is incredible. My parents told me the other night that they’ve never felt so loved. That’s good. They’re going through a hard time, especially putting the outing together. It’s not easy. It’s a daily reminder of what happened. Hearing other people thank us and tell us their stories makes it worth it.”
There have been other phone calls, too. From people that already knew about Tyler’s story, but just wanted to support Zach.
“I’m getting texts from the guys (from Pitt) all the time just saying that they’re thinking about me,” Zach said. “It really helps. That brotherhood from being on the team hasn’t changed. It’s the same old relationship. I’ve talked to someone on the team daily. That’s been nice. They’ve helped a lot.”
HITTING CLOSE TO HOME
One of the messages that Zach wants to get out to the public is that heroin is a drug that can hurt anyone. South Fayette is a suburban community that could be considered affluent. It’s not a place that many would associate with IV drug use. But that is a notion that ought to change. If anything, Tyler’s case is fairly typical for the current epidemic.
“The vast majority of people that are currently impacted by it are white men and 60 to 70 percent of the people that are dying are white men between the ages of 20 and 40,” Allegheny County Health Department director Dr. Karen Hacker said. “What we’re seeing is that in many cases, these are middle-income, suburban communities. … It is not always the commutes with the deepest poverty that are the most effected.”
“You can pick up your phone and find it if you want it,” Zach added. “It’s in South Fayette. It’s everywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nice community or not. Everyone is human. The same things are happening behind closed doors in South Fayette that are in the city. It’s everywhere.”
Dr. Hacker adds that people like Zach stepping up and speaking about his experience is a vital part of breaking the stigma that surrounds all addictions.
‘Let’s face it, IV drug abusers don’t have a great reputation,” she said. “It’s pretty easy for them to be someone else’s problem. People didn’t think of them as someone else’s child, necessarily. It’s gotten much closer to home.”
“I have personal friends whose children are addicts and at this point in time, they’re not willing to go and talk about it. One of the reasons they don’t want to talk about is because the stigma is so enormous. Some of it is because they don’t want to out their own recovering children because of that stigma. So to have people that are willing to get out there and are willing to speak about it, absolutely, it’s critical.”
A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
Zach and his family plan on the golf outing being an annual tradition and hope that they can organize other events to raise money for the charitable causes they’ve identified. It’s a way for them to keep Tyler’s memory going. It’s also a way for them to stay busy.
Zach has gone from the intense seven-day-a-week training regimen of a Division I student athlete to a 9-to-5 job in just a few hectic months.
“I feel like I was forced to grow up real quick,” he said. “Graduating high school at 17, playing with guys that were 23, I always wanted to be older. Now, it’s just out of college, graduated with a job. It’s kind of surreal.”
The Tyler Challingsworth Foundation of Hope golf outing will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at Quicksilver Golf Course. Tickets are $120 and include range access and dinner. For information, call (412) 722-8635.