Many Tyrone students and community members will recognize this Jeep. With forty inch tires, a lift kit and standing about seven feet tall, it was hard to miss as it rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue on its way to another car show or off-road adventure.
However, there is a lot more to this Jeep than fiberglass and steel. The story of this Jeep and it’s owner is one of heartbreak, endurance, recovery, and tragedy.
Wilson would eventually become known across the country for his big Jeep and even bigger heart, but baseball was his first calling. At Tyrone Area High School, he was a feared pitcher for the Golden Eagles Baseball team, where he earned the nickname “Hefty Lefty” for his large build and rifle left arm.
But before Wilson became a standout high school pitcher, he had already overcome several serious injuries and health scares that would have ended most athletes’ careers.
In 6th grade, Clint was preparing for the softball throw in Track and Field. When he took his first throw, he heard a loud crack in his arm. Clint had fractured his throwing arm in two places and found himself in traction cast for eight weeks. Calcium deposits in his bone had developed two tumors in Clint’s arm, leading to a serious fracture. Clint took on the task of sports rehabilitation and in three months made a full recovery.
Then, during Wilson’s sophomore year, he endured another serious medical emergency. One morning, his parents Ed and Claudia woke up to the alarmed voice of their son. Clint’s left arm had swelled and turned purple and he was in a great deal of pain. The Wilson’s rushed Clint to the hospital, where doctors discovered several blood clots, one the size of a golf ball, in Clint’s shoulder.
The news was shocking but as the Wilson family had done once already, they began a medical battle with an uncertain future. Clint couldn’t be life flighted due to the blood clot and the only hospital with the bariatric chamber was unavailable. Clint was put under coronary care in Pittsburgh.
“Two times they went in to break the clots, and the one time they broke to fast, and they [the doctors] told us at that time that was either going to stroke or pass away,” said Claudia Wilson.
At one point, the Wilson’s were told that Clint might even lose his arm. After a lot of prayers, Clint underwent successful surgery and slowly recovered from that ordeal .
He slowly began his comeback to baseball. What was thought to be impossible, became possible. Clint’s self motivation and determination outweighed the mental block of his medical needs and by his senior year in high school, Clint was in the position of lifetime.
“Clint was always a very hard worker and he truly loved baseball. Most of us in that senior class had played together since minor league or T-ball, so we were very close,” said teammate and friend Brice Mertiff.
Clint helped his high school team on the mound, and at the plate.
In the winter after his senior year at Tyrone, Clint went to Zephyrhills, Florida to be a part of an elite pitching camp. The commitment to go was a financially costly decision for the Wilson family, but the experience was worth the world. Clint trained with Mike Marshall and mastered his techniques in two years, quicker than the average three.
After high school, Clint played baseball at Penn State Altoona and even helped bring home an ECAC Championship Title. Word of Clint’s pitching and batting talents spread through the baseball community. With a resume loaded with great averages and being in attendance at Mike Marshall’s Pitching camp, Clint had an opportunity to play in the prestigious AAABA baseball tournament in Johnstown. Clint did well at the tournament and eventually found himself in Colorado playing on a startup minor league team. Clint practiced, played, and even kept up with the pros that were around him. By the end of the summer, Clint was ready for his chance.
“The second year, they were going to sign him on. But we knew if they signed him on that he couldn’t come back and play ball for Penn State because of NCAA rules,” said Claudia Wilson.
After talking it over with his parents, Clint decided to come back to Pennsylvania, finish his degree and planned to pursue a Masters Degree in Business.
In the months that would follow the summer before his final year of college, Ed and Claudia would once again be faced with situation that would profoundly affect both Clint and their lives.
In July of 2010 Clint lost a close friend to a tragic accident. On July 20th, just five days after the funeral, several car loads of friends and family, including Clint and five others, were to meet at a remote location in the mountains above Tyrone to spread their friends ashes.
On their way up the mountain, the Jeep Cherokee in which Clint was a passenger struck the guide rail on the left side of the roadway and went airborne, rolling over several times, and struck several trees.
According to the police report filed at the time of the accident, the driver was traveling at an unsafe and careless speed. Three of the passengers, including Clint, were taken to Altoona Hospital. One was flown to Pittsburgh for major injuries.
The driver was cited for careless driving and several other violations.
Clint’s parents, who were in one of the other cars traveling up the mountain, were among the first people on the scene of the accident. Three of the six passengers were not wearing seatbelts and were ejected from the vehicle. Clint, the only passenger wearing a seatbelt, and two other were caught in the car as it flew over the edge of the mountain. The Wilson’s realized very quickly that Clint was in a serious amount of pain, but even in his current state, he was still worried about everyone else.
“[The seatbelt] saved Clint’s life, but with the five other guys not buckled in, they bounced off him,” said Claudia Wilson, “As soon as Clint was able to see me, he said, ‘mum go to Carlos’.”
As a result of the accident Clint sustained a serious concussion and five fractures in his back.
In a moment Clint’s mother realized a long road of recovery was ahead and his baseball career may be over.
While initially the broken bones in his back were thought to be Clint’s most serious injury, it was the concussion that would prove to change his life forever. Initially Clint was diagnosed with post concussive syndrome, but this didn’t sit right with his surgeons and doctors. He went to Pittsburgh for impact testing and multiple surgeries on his shoulder. The results showed he had negative one-positive four brain activity.
Clint was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
The Struggle and Recovery
Unable to continue his education due to his brain injury, Clint was forced to drop out of Penn State’s Business program.
According to his parents, Clint felt he had hit rock bottom, and became depressed. Unable to play baseball or further his education, he would spend days alone in his room, suffering from short term memory loss and other symptoms.
As Clint and his parents struggled to understand his situation, everything began to change when Clint’s father, Ed, suggested he purchase a Jeep for his next vehicle.
“Clint was after a pickup, he was looking for a diesel with stacks in the back. I said buddy, buddy, buddy, you oughta look at Jeep. These trucks were just big and gaudy, you can’t do anything with them,” said Ed Wilson.
Clint found his Jeep online. When Clint and his dad went to look at the Jeep, he immediately fell in love with it. He didn’t know much about working on Jeeps, but he learned quickly with hands on experience. The Jeep became his outlet. He didn’t have to remember anything. Clint felt at peace working on his Jeep.
Rich Bridges, a local Jeep enthusiast with well known reputation in the Jeep community, met Clint the day after Wilson purchased his Jeep.
“I’ve been selling Jeeps for a very long time, so his dad (Ed) thought I would be the person to ask questions that they had. We must of sat there for two hours going over what could be done and what couldn’t be at the budget they had in mind,” said Bridges.
Clint’s fascination with his new found hobby started to bring out a side in him that his parents hadn’t seen in while.
“I took Clint and his Dad on their first off road trip years ago,” said Bridges. “It was a Toys for Tots run in Patton, Pa. at Rock Run Recreational Park. I took Clint on a off camber trail. He got a wheel in the air, I swear he was going to lose it! He thought he was going to flip over. I kept yelling to him to relax. To trust his guide/spotters. The joy in his face was unreal, even though we were on easy green trails. So he jumped in my TJ and we hit the hard trails. He was screaming and laughing the whole time. All I kept hearing was “”Oh God, Oh God”” as we climbed rocks twice the size of Jeeps.”
On that first ride, Clint’s Jeep sustained it’s first damage.
“[We were driving] in between tight trees and Clint must of clipped one and didn’t see it. As we head back to the clubhouse after the rides Clint walked outside and came back in. Upset, he motions me to follow him. He dented his factory plastic bumper. Here I am standing beside this monster of a human and he’s distraught. So we walk back inside where there are at least 80 people. And his dad Ed stands up and asks what’s going on? We walk out and he sees the dent. He looks at me. I explain to drill a 1/8 hole underneath and hit it with a air hose and it will pop out. A week later I get a call from Ed. Clint got his first aftermarket part. A front bumper. So I had the honor of putting the first aftermarket part ever on the Enforcer,” said Bridges.
Clint soon learned that dents, dings and scratches were all part of the Jeep life. And unlike many custom Jeep enthusiasts, Wilson was never interested in his Jeep just being a show vehicle.
“If you look at it in person, there are scratches and dents on it. He used it for its purpose, he took it off road and took it through [obstacles] no one else would. He never complained about them, he would just say ‘There’s another memory’, ” said Sam Demko, one of Clint’s numerous off-roading partners.
Part of the reason he was so into the scratches and dents on his Jeep was because he saw them as battle scars. Not cosmetic flaws. With a Jeep in his possession, Clint wanted to experience the Jeep life with no regrets.
Soon Clint was travelling to Jeep shows and meets to learn as much as he could about his new passion.
Over time, Clint became well known because of his willingness to try anything, his outgoing humor, and his story. When others found out about Clints backstory, they took him under their wing and helped him as much as possible. Little did they know that taking him under their wings would not only benefit him, but benefit them as well.
Clint quickly became well known across the Jeep community. Not just for his Jeep. But also for the kind of person that he was.
“[In] October 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. I talked to Clint about it, I didn’t want anyone to know but he was the one person I trusted with the bad news in the Industry. He was very supportive and we checked in on each other at least every other day. I spoke with him less than 24 hours before he passed away and I still have the texts on my phone. The last words I read from him was “”If you ever need anything anytime I’ll always be here for you, go rest now and I’ll check in with you tomorrow’”… tomorrow never came. Clint loved his Jeep and was very proud of it, he worked on it tirelessly it made him stand out and feel part of something,” said Jeep Beef founder Debbie Goyette.
Stories like this are common among those who knew Clint. With his Jeep, he helped others and healed wounds that had been left in others lives. His Jeep had become an outlet for all of his pain.
Living the Jeep Life
Army Sergeant Jeremy Hopper, served in Afghanistan and was injured in the line of duty. Like Clint, Jeremy was dealing with a traumatic brain injury.
“Clint always wanted to help and was a very social person who loved his Jeep and loved the Off-Road Community. He loved our organization 4 Wheel to Heal and often helped us network within the community. Over the years we attended many events together and I have, and cherish, many memories with him,” and John Pursar, president of 4 Wheel 2 Heal.
Through Clint’s connections and know how, he and a few friends were able to rebuild the Jeep from the ground up.
It took almost a year and a slew of donated parts to fully transform Jeremy’s Jeep. Even with Clint going to and from the hospital regularly, he found the time to put his time and soul into a Jeep for a veteran he had just met. At the end of the build Clint decided to name the Jeep the Helihopper because of Jeremy’s military background working with helicopters and other aircraft.
Jeremy was so touched and surprised by Clint’s and everyone else’s hard work, that he presented Clint with one of four American flags he was given to present to someone they feel has earned to fly our nation’s colors.
After Clint and many others had finished the Helihopper build, his popularity in the Jeep community took off. Clint developed a strong social media presence which attracted a lot of attention to Clint and his Jeep. He started getting offers from sponsors, giving him various parts to use on his build, until he eventually landed deals with big companies like Rigid Industries Lighting and Poison Spyder Customs.
Clint’s Jeep was built from the ground up and wouldn’t have been possible without his sponsors, his passion to learn, and his addictive personality.
His Jeep became an iconic poster-rig for Jeep communities around the country. Soon Clint was traveling across the U.S. to attend events and was living a dream Jeep life.
One of Clint’s 17 thousand Instagram followers was Moshannon Valley High School student and Houtzdale resident Sam Demko.
Sam was familiar with a location that Clint wanted to explore, so when Clint reached out on social media looking for a guide, Sam offered to show him around. Sam met Clint at the off roading spot and they quickly formed a strong friendship.
So strong that Clint was willing to give the keys of “The Enforcer” to a kid going to prom.
“I was talking about Prom and he was like ‘Oh, take the Jeep to Prom’ and I wasn’t sure if he was joking around. When Prom came around I texted him and asked, ’Hey do you think I could take the Jeep to Prom?’ and he responded ‘Hell yeah, take the Jeep! Have a blast, it’s all yours.’ He literally lended me his Jeep for a week,” said Demko.
Most custom Jeep enthusiasts don’t even allow fingerprints on their Jeep. Clint Wilson would give you his for a week.
Even with all of his fame and popularity in the Jeep community, Clint also made time for his high school friends as well.
“Clint and I met in high school. He was always so happy and people considered him as the ‘class clown.’ We grew a strong bond in and
out of school as we were always doing random things even if it meant driving around looking for deer. He was always the most positive person and always did everything he could to make myself and everyone around smile. Clint loved to participate in events such as toys for tots or any benefits regarding children and adults. He was the most caring and giving person I’ve ever met,” said high school friend Kassie Dipko
Clint had become undeniably famous and always had a friend wherever he went. Clint had acquired the name, The Enforcer.
The now notorious title came from Clint’s personality. Clint was always looking out for others, and this meant if he noticed someone disrespecting someone, he would step into action and “enforce” the situation.
When Forbidden Jeeps owner Doug Povey suggested that Clint name himself and the Jeep “The Enforcer,” the name stuck and was quickly adopted between the man and his machine.
Through the Jeep community Clint was able to overcome depression, but he still struggled daily with the symptoms of his traumatic brain injury. According to his parents, he never was able to maintain normal sleep schedule. He often would be up for days, only sleeping for a couple hours a night, and then would rest for a few days. Anxiety, restlessness, severe headaches, vomiting and nausea would often keep Clint from being out and about in the community.
On the morning of March 1, 2016, Ed and Claudia heard Clint choking in his bedroom. Clint had begun vomiting and choking, causing him to aspirate. When Ed and Claudia realized Clint was in trouble they called EMS. By the time medical services arrived, Clint’s situation became dire. The only thing the Wilson’s could do was watch. As Clint was transported to the ambulance from his room, he went into cardiac arrest. When the ambulance finally arrived at the hospital he was taken into immediate care, but it was too late. Clint had passed.
The loss hit his family and friends hard.
“I held his hand and he was gone. I didn’t want to leave him and after 45 minutes I had to walk away from my boy. I had to leave my boy,” said Claudia Wilson.
Clint passed on the morning of March 1, his 29th birthday. As people wished Clint a Happy Birthday over social media, they began to hear of the terrible news. Clint’s funeral was held later that week. As services began the family noticed that people just kept showing up. There were over 200 Jeeps, cars and trucks that traveled in the funeral procession. People from all over the country came to pay their respects.
“The parking lot was full of Jeeps from Virginia, New York and Jersey. Hundreds upon hundreds [of Jeep enthusiasts] showed up to pay their respects. I rarely ever get choked up but, Ed left Clint’s casket when he saw me in line. [He] came towards and gave me a huge hug. And turned around with his arm around me and pointed to the hundreds of people and said ‘This is because of you Rich. This is what you brought my son. These friends would of never been made without you’. That was one of the saddest days of my life,” said Rich Bridges.
As the services approached an end, the time had come to lay Clint to rest. As everyone headed to the grave site, Ed asked Claudia to wait near his Jeep. He didn’t want her to witness Clint’s casket being lowered into the ground. As Claudia watched the events from a distance, a cold breeze blew through and the flag on Clint’s Jeep stood up.
“It stood the flag up, on his Jeep. Everybody just stood still,” said Claudia Wilson.
When Ed came back, the father of one of Clint’s friends approached him. He was a one star general in the military. He held his hand out to Ed and asked to shake his hand. When he did, he gave Ed a medal. The medal was a one star generals’ medal that is presented to heroes. Clint’s dad accepted it gratefully and slowly realized how much their son was going to be missed.
In the weeks following, news of Clint’s passing spread through the Jeep community. The news shocked friends and those who had met him.
The community mourned the loss of a shining figure of the Jeep world. Clint will be remembered for his sense of humor through the worst and staying positive. After everything Clint had endured, he still was able to make the most of his life. What could have been a depressing end, turned into a bright future.
“Clint will be remembered for a very long time. If you didn’t know him personally…well you knew his Jeep that he named the Enforcer,” said Bridges.
“I would hope that Clint would always be remembered. I will always remember him, there still isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and still visit his Instagram page regularly and look through his pictures with a smile. Everyone I have talked to over the last year about Clint say the same thing, he was always there when you needed him, Never a harsh word, always helpful, kind and loving. Clint was the go to person for everyone, He was the definition of the Jeep Community,” said Jeep Beef President Debbie Goyette.
Everyone I have talked to over the last year about Clint say the same thing, he was always there when you needed him, Never a harsh word, always helpful, kind and loving. Clint was the go to person for everyone, He was the definition of the Jeep Community”
— Jeep Beef President Debbie Goyette
“He was a dynamic individual who loved off-roading and spent a lot of time helping others. He is truly missed,” said John Pursar, president of 4 Wheel 2 Heal.
During the summer of 2016, several Jeep events were held in dedication of Clint. Jeep Beach in Daytona, Florida even held a fireworks display at the end of the week as a special tribute.
At a popular Pennsylvania off-road park, Doe Valley OHV a new trail was cut in his name.
The lasting impression he left on the community will be felt forever. Clint’s heart was just as big as he was and it showed. His memory will last for many years with today marking one year since his passing. Even though Clint has passed , his presence is still felt everyday by his sister Brittany and four year old nephew, Hunter.
“Clint was not only an amazing brother, but a best friend and a mentor with a heart of gold. His legacy lives on through my four year old son, Hunter. Hunter is like his ‘Uncle Clinty’ in a million ways from sports to being advanced in school. He has as big of a heart as Clint portrayed to everyone. [He will] forever be missed and loved,” said Clint’s sister Brittany.
“[If Clint were here right now] he would be right down at the house. He loved it there, and he loved to be with his family,” said Ed Wilson.
According to his mom, Clint often used little sayings to keep himself motivated. Sayings like never give up, help each other, love one another, and be there for your fellow man. Clint was a special guy who formed a special relationship with everyone he met.
Editor’s Note: If you knew Clint, we hope that his story has touched and inspired you. Clint shared a message of determination and perseverance throughout his life, and if he touched you in any way please share your stories in the comments below.
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