CUMBERLAND — Chris Tyll grew up in Ubly, Michigan, a farming town of fewer than 1,000 people, and knew he wanted more out of life. Little did he realize he would find his calling in Maine.

Tyll, 43, is a 2001 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former U.S. Navy SEAL who had four deployments to Iraq. He is now living in South Portland, a small business owner with his hand in several projects and a youth sports coach. He is now co-coach of the Greely Middle School football team that plays in the Maine Sportsmanship League.

“It’s just been a wild ride so far,” said Tyll before a recent football practice. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would end up on a football field in Cumberland, Maine, taking pride in the young men, and one young lady, we have on our team.”

Coaching isn’t all that Tyll does for the young men and women in Maine, either. He often speaks to students about his experiences as a Navy SEAL and how they relate to his life. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, he was a regular guest at South Portland’s Memorial Middle School. Most recently, he spoke to the Thornton Academy football team on Sept. 10, one day before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“He’s just a dynamic speaker and the kids listen to him,” said Diane Baker, an eighth-grade Humanities teacher at Memorial Middle School. “He talks about perseverance I would say. He talks to the kids about not being successful initially but persevering until you become successful. He didn’t become a Navy SEAL on his first try. He shares that experience with the kids. I think the kids can relate to him.”

Kevin Kezal, the football coach at Thornton Academy, saw in Tyll an opportunity to talk about what it takes to be a member of a successful team, as well as what Sept. 11 should mean to his players.

“A lot of these kids don’t understand what 9/11 is because they weren’t born yet,” said Kezal. “So it was important to hear from him. He talked about his experiences as a Navy SEAL. One of the kids asked him, ‘How did you get through the training?’

“He said, ‘You just try to get through the next meal. You don’t want to think about the months of misery ahead of you.’ He was tying it into football, he was tying it into life. It was great.”

Tyll said he talks to the students about setting small goals (which will lead to bigger goals), never quitting and the importance of teamwork, of knowing what your job is within the team framework.

Those lessons, he said, can be applied to life and sports.

Tyll graduated from Annapolis in 2001. He was assigned as an ensign to a school in Newport, Rhode Island, when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred. The next morning, he woke up determined to apply to be a Navy SEAL. He says now that decision was naive, but he saw himself following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, who served in WWII.

He was rejected on his first attempt, but six months later was accepted into the program. He was deployed to Iraq four times and, of combat, he said, “I saw enough.”

He said the deployment in 2005-06 was “the most challenging nine months of my life and also very rewarding. You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about those with whom you’re serving, you learn a lot about humanity. At the end of the day, people over there, whether fighting us or working with us, we’re really not all that far apart in what we desire. We all care about our kids, we all care about our families.”

Tyll retired from the military in 2009 and came to Maine, which he had learned to love during his many visits over the years. “I came back and knew that I didn’t want to work for anybody else,” he said. “But I really wasn’t sure what it was I was going to do. Luckily I had some very very good mentors.”

He mentions his aunt and uncle, Peggy and Eric Cianchette, and John Kyle, the owner of Pat’s Pizza in Yarmouth.

He would get into the hospitality business for 10 years, then sell his two restaurants. He currently owns Crystal Clear Car Wash in South Portland and is involved in some real estate projects. He also ran for the state Senate in 2012, losing a close race.

While it seems that Tyll has settled nicely into civilian life, he says it wasn’t so easy.

“I think I still have a hard time,” said Tyll. “It’s hard because … it’s such a big part of your identity and, depending on the events you partake in, it reshapes who you are as a person. It took me a long time to get to where I am now. I made plenty of mistakes along the way. I’m growing, obviously as a person, and I believe it’s just rooted in purpose. If you don’t have a purpose that’s when you either make a bad mistake or maybe something seems harder than it really is.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: