MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — A roar of approval rang around the room from hundreds of seventh- and eighth-graders as Chris “Lights Out” Lytle slid a Woodrow Wilson Middle School Pride Patrol T-shirt over his head.
The mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship star, firefighter and recent author visited the students to speak to teens and hand out 500 copies of his book, “Lights Out On Bullying.”
A video of Lytle, 42, now retired from competition, in the fighting ring brought cheers from students, who heard stories from the boxer’s childhood, athletic career and family life.
Lytle’s UFC record is 47-10.
But when he was hazed as a 103-pound high school freshman, Lytle found support from a senior football player who stood up for smaller and vulnerable players who got picked on regularly, Lytle told the students.
“We didn’t want to get beat up, so we would stand near him,” he said, adding that he “idolized” the older player, who influenced the kind of person he wanted to become.
Now the married father of four children, one of whom is autistic, Lytle is a lieutenant in the Indianapolis Fire Department, where he has worked for 15 years.
Seeing his autistic son cry because other children made fun of his differences was difficult, Lytle said. “It’s something he has no control over.”
His son and others he met in his work as a firefighter have inspired Lytle to share a message of bravery and courage with students. He wants to encourage others “to do the right thing” and stand up when people get picked on or bullied, he said.
Lytle also stopped by the Middletown Fire Department on Main Street to speak with his fellow firefighters and spread his message.
With a degree in sports management, Lytle is passionate about the subject of bullying and its prevalence in schools and workplaces, according to a press release. Since his book has been published, Lytle is aiming to speak to students across the country about the importance of acceptance and compassion.
Lytle also spends some of his free time volunteering as a coach and mentor at his gym, Indy Boxing and Grappling, which is open free to Indianapolis youth. In 2012, he ran for Indiana state Senate.
As a motivational speaker, Lytle has traveled the nation speaking to schools, foundations and military troops about strength, discipline and resilience, according to the release.
Many years ago, when Lytle had the chance to step up and help another person being bullied, he didn’t, he said.
“I didn’t help. I was afraid of what they thought of me,” he told students. “It bothered me for the next 11 years.”
“It’s hard doing the right thing, it takes courage,” he added. “Bravery is doing it despite your fear.”
Information from: The Middletown Press, http://www.middletownpress.com