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A kid who won't give up.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

ON A DREARY DECEMBER morning three months ago, 19-year-old Travis Carroll left his Springfield house with one thing on his mind: to kill himself.

He'd thought it over, left a note, planned the suicide - the whole nine yards. He would walk to a bridge over the Willamette River, he figured, and fly away.

He couldn't take the idea of his first Christmas without his mom. But she was dead. And that's what he wanted to be, too.

Next time, like me, you find yourself thinking the world has done you wrong because you can't find a parking spot, think of Travis Carroll, a kid who's overcome more in the past few years than most of us will in a lifetime.

And next time you find yourself thinking that nobody cares about anybody anymore, think of the village-to-raise-a-child folks who helped save the young man's life.

Maybe Travis Carroll's name sounds familiar. I wrote about the developmentally disabled teen-ager in 2000 when he reached a lifelong dream of graduating from Thurston High - and a couple of feckless thugs promptly mugged him. I wrote about him a year ago after his mother - and caretaker - Kendall died unexpectedly at age 54. I remember leaving the funeral home that Sunday afternoon thinking: What happens to this kid now?

This: He bounced from living situation to living situation. Sometimes Travis wore out his welcome with his infrequent but volatile temper. For whatever reason, he wound up homeless, sleeping in a field.

He says - with his unique sense of humor - that "I went through a mild midlife crisis." He did some drugs. Decided to become a dance-club king. Neither proved to be his salvation.

Finally, in stepped his father, Scott McKague, who'd missed much of Travis' life - and who had his own baggage, including a traumatic brain injury suffered in a fall from a tree. But he let his son move in with him.

"He was pivotal in what was going on," says Tim Moran, a case manager with Springfield public schools' Community Transition Program. "He gave Travis some stability."

But in December, his mother's death bore deeper into Travis' soul.

ON THE DAY Travis was going to kill himself, McKague called Moran, who talked Travis out of the suicide attempt. Moran got Travis to Sacred Heart Medical Center's emergency room, which referred him to Lane County Psychiatric Hospital.

A woman named Ernie Mackey of Senior & Disabled Services - "a godsend," says Moran - intervened and found Travis a more permanent housing situation. Others rose to the occasion. Springfield Young Life leader Ron Sauer "went out of his way" to be there for Travis, Moran says. Gloria Griffith of the school district's Family Resource Center went the extra mile to get Travis some basic needs - clothes, for example.

Travis gradually got better. The key to it all? "Tim Moran," Travis says.

Moran counseled Travis about taking responsibility for his life. Took him to Duck games. Made him a volunteer assistant in his office.

"Let's just say I'm a fan of the underdog," Moran says. "I mean, here's a kid whose mother died and whose father fell out of a tree and damaged his head, and the kid's still trying. He's willing to be helped."

"It's the best program of its kind anywhere in the U.S.," says Travis of Springfield's Community Transition Program, which helps special-needs students until they're 21. (He may not be far from the truth; the program was recently nominated as a national model by the University of Oregon's secondary special education department, which works with it.) "And Tim Moran is one of the best teachers in all America. Without Tim, I'm not sure I'd have made it past my mom's death."

Now, Travis is aqua-jogging regularly at the Willamalane pool; in fact, he set a pool-record 170 pool laps last Tuesday, says Moran. He's got his sense of humor back. (He talks of having a movie done on his life. "I see Harrison Ford playing Tim and Danny Bonaduce of `The Partridge Family' playing me," says Travis.) And he's coming to grips with his mother's death. "She's in a better place and not suffering anymore," Travis says.

He and Moran are looking down the road, perhaps to some computer classes at Lane Community College and some employment for Travis. In the meantime, he's setting his sights on short-term goals, like getting to Portland to watch his beloved Thurston Colts vie for a state championship in the boys' Class 4A high school basketball tournament that starts Tuesday.

"I'm going up there if I have to go by land or sea," he says, "because Thurston's going all the way. And when they win it, I'm going to buy about eight of those Code Red Mountain Dews, shake them up and spray them everywhere."

Here's my own Code Red salute: to a kid who won't give up - and the people who care enough to be his bridge over troubled water.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 28, 2002
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