The Tyler Project

The Tyler Project

Pontiac Fiero enthusiasts gather from throughout the U.S. to help restore the vintage car for a terminal teenage cancer patient.

The surprising kindness of strangers is the theme of this KARE-TV video, the story of Tyler Shipman, an 18-year-old cancer patient whose dream of restoring a beat-up 1986 Pontiac Fiero had been dashed by a fatal diagnosis. Tyler posted his dilemma on a YouTube Fiero forum, and almost immediately heard from “Hulki U. My-BFF,” a forum member serving in Iraq with the National Guard. Hulki’s response, “I’ll do what I can,“ turned into a huge group effort, involving dozens of volunteers from around the U.S., and thousands of dollars in auto parts and plane tickets for mechanics.

Tyler and his parents had been told there was nothing more to be done to help him, and his time was limited. The video emphasizes the time element, showing volunteers working around-the-clock on the Fiero to complete the job in one weekend. Speeded up time-lapse photography demonstrates the process, from empty garage floor to reassembled car. The camera is there for special moments when various car systems come back to life, and to capture the immense good will of the workers, who basically dropped everything to come and help.

The scene when the perfectly restored and bright yellow muscle car rolls out of the body shop to Tyler waiting in his wheelchair with his family and half the town of Frazee, Minnesota, is a real heart-tugger.

Update: Tyler Shipman passed away four months after his diagnosis with synovial sarcoma, an aggressive cancer that failed to respond to treatment.

This video was awarded 3rd place in the 2010 National Press Photographers Association Best of TV Photojournalism contest, In-depth category, and Editing: Editor’s Effects, Honorable Mention.

Length: 6:50

By Jonathan Malat, KARE-TV, Minneapolis


More NPPA award winners by Jonathan Malat: