Every time Tyler McGuire walks to the cage, he wears a T-shirt with the message ‘Autism Rocks!’ across the front.
The American does not receive any sponsorship money by wearing it. Instead, he is trying to raise awareness about a disorder that afflicts one out of every 68 children in the world.
ONE Welterweight World Title contender Tyler McGuire competes for a very noble cause ????Jakarta | 17 November | 6:00PM | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onedream18
Posted by ONE Championship on Saturday, November 10, 2018
Autism is a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others, and McGuire did not really understand it until he studied the subject to become a teacher in college.
After graduating from Iowa Wesleyan University, the ONE Welterweight World Title contender started working with children from the ages of about 11 to 14, and they shaped his career as an educator.
“I just loved working with them, helping out, and communicating with them, so that’s when I figured out what I wanted to do as an educator. It worked out,” the 32-year-old says.
“I started the first program in the state of Iowa for the middle school-age kids on the autism spectrum. I did that for three years, and I got to know them, I got to know their families, and just how awesome these kids are.”
Working with these children and their families impacted McGuire in a way he never thought would be possible. He built close relationships, which inspired him to support and fight for their cause.
“It was incredible. They almost become your own kids. I always had a great relationship with the parents,” McGuire explains.
“As a parent, you want the best for your kids. I gained that trust, and I was able to take them out on outings and have fun, and it’s because I had that trust and rapport.
“I got to see them grow. One girl learned to read right before my eyes. I had one kid working in the school’s kitchen, so he was getting employment skills. The ability to see that growth was incredible.”
McGuire eventually left teaching to join the United States Air Force, before later pursuing his career in mixed martial arts in Washington, but he never forgot about the children he worked with in Iowa.
The American’s experiences also let him know that there are still a lot of people who do not understand what the condition means, or how to give autistic kids help when they need it.
Because of that, he dedicated himself to spreading the word, and let people know there is nothing to be scared of.
Instead, these children need understanding and education, which is why he has continued to raise awareness by wearing his ‘Autism Rocks!’ shirt every time he competes.
“Even as an amateur, I was fighting in front of 2,500 people for small shows. Now, I’m in front of 20,000 people or more in an arena for ONE Championship, and millions online. I realized that’s an easy way to spread the awareness,” McGuire explains.
“In fact, when I fought as an amateur in Iowa, one lady’s daughter had just been diagnosed with autism, and she was crying when she saw me wearing that shirt as she realized that people cared.
“When I fought in Malaysia, I had people messaging me online telling me their personal stories and thanking me for wearing the shirt.
“It’s just a small token to let them know that autism isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a misunderstood thing. More research is coming out, and I figured more people talking about it can only lead to positive outcomes.”
At ONE: WARRIOR’S DREAM on Saturday, 17 November in Jakarta, Indonesia, McGuire will take his message into the biggest platform of his career.
He has the chance to become ONE Welterweight World Champion when he faces Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam in the main event, and fans all around the globe will be watching.
The American’s main focus going into the contest is to win the welterweight belt, but tucked away in the back of his head will be the idea that this is his best chance to continue spreading awareness about autism across the planet.
“One of the things I try to keep in mind at all times is that I have a three-year-old daughter, and one day she’s going to look back,” he says.
“If I’m fortunate enough to get the victory, how did I use that victory? Did I use that for personal gain or did I use that to better the lives of others?
“I want my daughter to look back and be proud of me because I used the platform for good.”