Elk River senior Tyler Creelman, a five-year varsity tennis veteran, has vanquished more than 100 opponents, many of them appreciating his power while knowing nothing of its source.
He was born to a mother who battled drug addiction. He’s never met his father, who by all accounts left Tyler’s life soon after he was born.
Tyler was 3 years old when, after a stint in foster care, he was placed for adoption by his struggling mother’s parents. Sharon and Rick Creelman, who had been his foster parents, became his legal ones.
Sharon Creelman said Tyler “was a bundle of hurt and anger until he realized he is not responsible for his parents. He needed to get his eyes on what God made him to be.”
In time, Tyler Creelman made it his mission to not let a rough start in life limit his potential. Tennis provided an outlet for pursuing excellence.
Once an energetic youngster with raw skills, Creelman honed his game through hard work. Physical gifts helped, too. Harnessing good size, flexibility and quickness earned Creelman, the Elks’ No. 1 singles player, the “beast” tag from opponents overwhelmed by his power.
“I’ve always been a person who likes to prove people wrong,” said Creelman, who along with his teammates begin postseason play Thursday. “That’s where I came from as a kid who was adopted. Some kids I’ve seen, when they’re adopted they think, ‘Well, I can just be a bad person because I came from a bad family.’ I made sure I wasn’t going to be that person.
“I saw the mistakes my biological parents made, and I wanted to make sure I was different,” Creelman said. “I want to be something special.”
After an initial foster care stint with the Creelmans, Tyler returned to his mother and her parents. Continued drug problems left her unable to take care of him, according to accounts relayed to the Creelmans. With his mother’s parents facing their own health challenges, they placed Tyler for adoption.
He returned to the Creelmans a wounded little boy.
“He said to us, ‘They kept the bad one and let the good one go,’ ” Sharon Creelman said.
Young Tyler was a handful for the Creelmans, who have four biological and four adopted children.
“It was a hard adjustment for me at first,” Tyler said. “Being a little kid, I didn’t understand it all. I had a lot of fits.”
The family then lived on a farm in Zimmerman. When troubled thoughts came at night, Tyler cuddled with Nick, the family’s Welsh corgi dog.
“Whenever I was mad or sad, he would come sit by me,” he said. “That comforted me. I’d always fall asleep next to him when I was unsettled.”
He recalled his older sister Carie taking him to a tennis court for the first time, when he was in about fifth grade. It proved to be the right outlet for bringing more meaning to his life.
“Something just switched, and I wanted to be a good tennis player,” Tyler said.
He took part in drill groups at the nearby Daytona Golf and Tennis Club in Dayton. That’s where Creelman first met club teaching pro and Elk River varsity coach Randy Ronning.
“He stood out in the group because of his energy, and he’s so personable,” Ronning said. “It seemed like his tennis skills improved quickly.”
Tennis in Elk River boomed when Creelman was a seventh-grader. In 2012, the Elks became the first large-school tennis team champion north of the I-694/494 loop in more than two decades. After listening to Ronning praise a hard-working, relentless senior player at the season-ending banquet, Creelman pledged to Ronning that he would embody those traits.
Creelman took a quantum leap between seventh and eighth grade, Ronning said, going from one of the program’s bottom three players to the top 10 on a state tournament team.
More than a key player, Creelman became a team leader and two-time captain. His influence spans from designing team uniforms to organizing Ping-Pong events or bowling outings.
“Tyler is a natural leader,” Ronning said. “He cares about the team’s success as much as he cares about his own.”
Creelman aids the program’s long-term health by helping Ronning teach young players at the Daytona club four to five days per week in the winter. Relating to the kids is Creelman’s specialty, Ronning said.
“God has a plan for me,” Creelman said. “He made something great out of nothing. And tennis, that was a way for me to show my emotions and to cope. Every time I’m out there I think, ‘Think of where you came from. That you’re even doing this is pretty cool.’ ”