Palm Coast resident Tyler Jacques is making a difference at Bedtops Mattress Clearance Center.
When Bob Nichols first took Tyler Jacques out on a mattress delivery for the first time in late November, he was hesitant. After all, Jacques was a 16-year-old boy, and teenagers aren’t always reliable, he said. But he was also unsure if Jacques could keep up with him and handle the weight of the mattresses.
Jacques was born without his left leg, below the knee, and with only a thumb and three short fingers on his right hand, due to amniotic band syndrome.
“I was in a bind and I decided to take him out, and I could tell the first night that we went — I think we did three or four deliveries — and I went home and told my wife, ‘I think I got someone really good,’” Nichols said.
As the store manager for Bedtops Mattress Clearance Center in Palm Coast, Nichols never looked back after hiring Jacques, a Flagler Palm Coast High School freshman. In fact, he said that Jacques is the one pushing him to work harder and move faster.
“It’s funny because we’ll be carrying a mattress in and I was constantly asking him, ‘Are you doing OK? Are you all right?’” Nichols said. “And his response was, ‘Yeah, are you all right, old man?’”
Their bond grew after their first night of deliveries. Now, Jacques works four to five nights a week after school, for about 20-25 hours weekly.
“I thought it was going to be a struggle at first, when I first got here,” Jacques said. “But I can do what any other kid can.”
This job has given Jacques work experience, he said, as he hopes to become a mechanic one day.
To Jacques, a prosthetic leg is just his norm. He gets a new one every year or so as he outgrows it, and he donates the legs he outgrows to others who need them. He doesn’t realize the extent of his impact on others, but store owner Judy Lemay said that’s just because he’s a humble young man.
On Jan. 31, Jacques sat at a table in the store with his best friend and coworker Peter Bolton, Lemay and Nichols as they raved about his genuine personality, impressive strength and strong work ethic.
“I never really thought I would inspire anybody,” Jacques said.
But he does.
Lemay recalled a customer who called the store to express her gratitude for Jacques’ efforts.
“It was a house he and Bob had delivered to,” Lemay said. “And she said, ‘I cannot believe what that young man can do, and I just wanted to call and tell you out of all the deliveries I’ve had, that it was so well taken care of.’”
Bolton noted that Jacques and Nichols make quite the pair on deliveries, as they get along well.
“I think he looks up to Bob quite a bit,” Lemay said. “Bob’s a great guy. He’s overcome a lot of adversity in his life too, so they make a very good team.”
A 20-foot fall in December 2013 changed Nichols’ life. He shattered his neck, back and both hands, and it gave him a brain injury.
Three and a half years later, a second chance came when Bedtops hired Nichols, after he’d purchased a mattress himself.
“I really didn’t think I’d ever work again,” Nichols said. “Judy and Gary brought me on, and to me, that was huge to overcome that. But it’s nothing like what (Jacques has) overcome his whole life. He puts so many things in perspective about life. I worry about the littlest things, and I really don’t anymore with him because I see what he does. He’s an amazing person, and we’re very thankful that he came on with us.”
Nichols mostly worked in the store itself before Jacques was hired. But when Bedtops needed more delivery crews, the two paired up.
“He pushed me to want to try to do the delivering, and when I did, it loosened up my muscles; I feel better than I ever have,” Nichols said. “It makes me feel alive again.”
As a 17-year-old now, Jacques spends his time out of school driving around with friends and delivering mattresses. He hopes to join the school baseball team at some point, as he was in Palm Coast Little League for 13 years. He has four brothers and two sisters, and this job keeps him busy, he said.
“I never really liked going outside anywhere because people would just make fun of me every day,” Jacques said.
At school, kids still pick on him sometimes. But it has given him a thick skin, he said.
“What bothered me a lot when we first started going into people’s houses is that they were constantly asking him about his leg,” Nichols said about Jacques. “And I finally asked him, ‘Does that really bother you? Because I’ll say something if it does.’ And he said, ‘No, people want to know. I’m sure they’re curious.’ I think he wants to get the word out there and help people that are born with disabilities know that you can do it. As long as someone gives them a chance, they can do it.”
Jacques’ advice to others is as simple as a lesson everyone learns in kindergarten: Try your best.
“I know you can do it,” Jacques said. “I mean, I’ve been through a lot; I’ve done a lot — a lot more than people ever thought I would.”