On September 20, Ty Farley was inducted into the Edina Athletic Hall of Fame. But Farley’s life story tells us more about resilience and fortitude than can be measured by athletic achievement. Ty Farley of Edina was adopted in 1969 by Harrison and Marie Farley when he was just 18 months old. He would become the couple’s sixth child. As the only child of color in an all-white family, the Farleys knew they’d need strength to guide their son through the challenges that would be ahead.
Farley says, “I remember being on the playground, maybe third grade, and having kids call me ‘Kunta Kinte,’” a name referring to the slave character in the Roots TV miniseries airing at the time. Soon after, Farley recalls a defining moment with an African American teacher at Creek Valley Elementary, who pulled him aside to counsel him. “She told me, ‘You may not understand it now, but what you do and how you act will be watched and assessed by many,’” Farley says. “It always stuck with me.”
Farley didn’t let racism harden him. Instead, whenever Farley saw bullying happen at school, he stepped in to stop it.
“Ty was friends with everyone … ” says longtime friend Ted Browne, who first met Farley in eighth grade and often played basketball at the Farley house. “He tried to find the best in people. He had friends in all sorts of different groups.”
Edina’s Sun Times editor John Sherman said of Farley at the induction ceremony, He’s “one of the greatest all-around athletes we’ve had in Edina. He still holds the Edina high-jump record, 6 feet, 9 1/4 inches. He also held the hurdles record for a while in 300s: 39.6 seconds—and that’s moving.”
His natural athletic abilities helped Farley discover the role sports could play in developing leadership skills, cooperation and teamwork. “The determination he showed was just great, but the way he bonded with the teammates was probably even better,” says Sherman.
Farley’s team mentality translated well during 15 years of military service. He says, “It wasn’t hard for me to go on mission after mission and kick doors in, because this bubble needs to be protected. I’m proud of my country. I’m proud of where I come from. I would gladly go on multiple missions again for this town.” For his service, Farley received four military decorations.
Later, at the urging of his sister and brother-in-law, he found a community to support his post-traumatic stress disorder treatment and recovery in the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs health care system. “The VA has been awesome, both the programs and the people,” he says. But Farley sees more to do. “It’s not just about me,” he says, noting that he’s lost 19 friends to suicide.
“I have to remember the kids I lost,” Farley says while choking back tears. For Farley, part of honoring the memories of fellow veterans includes starting a nonprofit, Suits for American Veterans, to provide business attire for veterans in need.
Helping his fellow veterans also aids Farley’s personal healing. “All those tours in the Middle East, the conflict and war—not a scratch on me,” Farley says. “I feel like I won the lottery. Every day, I say ‘thank you.’”