An Inspiring Ride: Tray Weems’s special day on Helena school bus 09-87
Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2022
By Michelle Love
Photos By Christina Dennis and contributed by Bryan Pope
As former Helena student Tray Weems made his way through the halls of Helena Intermediate School, he couldn’t help but smile. Tray hadn’t been in the school for quite a few years at this point, but that same feeling of happiness was undeniable.
It was also contagious, as Tray’s former teachers, principal and aids were all there with the same smile on their own faces. This was a special day, and everyone there was in agreement that if anyone deserved that happy feeling, it was him.
Tray was diagnosed with centronuclear myopathy, a condition characterized by muscle weakness and atrophy in the skeletal muscles, which are the muscles used for movement. As a result, Tray has very limited mobility and uses his wheelchair to get around.
His return to HIS was part of a wish – to ride on his favorite school bus, Bus 09-87, one more time.
Renee Robertson, his former bus driver, was more than happy to make that wish a reality.
“It was a blessing to get to do it for him,” she says. “He’s just the sweetest boy, he really is. He’s always had a positive attitude and he really made it easy to do this for him.”
Renee drove the bus during the time Tray attended Helena Elementary and Helena Intermediate, before his diagnosis. She says for as long as she’s known him, he’s had a contagious positive spirit that he still holds today. He loves to joke and tease in a playful way. During his time on the bus, Tray formed a friendship with Renee and bus aid Caroline Ward. Their rides on the bus were filled with fun moments such as spraying Caroline with silly string and jokingly “locking” her off the bus.
Tray’s love for the bus grew with every ride, so much so he told Renee that he wanted to be a bus driver when he was older. Renee said he frequently sends her videos related to bus information and trivia.
“I just wanted to see that bus one more time. That bus is legendary,” he says.
Tray and Renee’s friendship served as a support system for him when things got rough in life, according to Renee. She and her husband would frequently pick him up and take him to church, or she and Caroline would pick him up and take him to grab a burger.
Tray ultimately moved to Bessemer halfway through his fifth grade year, and Renee says that it devastated him to have to move. She and Tray lost touch for a couple of years before he reached out to her and her husband on Facebook.
“We would check on him and see how he was doing, and he was kind of down going through a rough patch,” she says.
A few weeks went by where Renee didn’t hear from Tray, then he reached out to her and told her some shocking news.
“He messaged me saying, ‘I just want to let you know I’m in Children’s Hospital and I’m not doing so well,’” Renee recalls. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and he said just point blank: ‘Well, I’m going to die.’”
After his diagnosis, doctors had given Tray three options: he could have a tracheotomy, use a sip and puff wheelchair, or he could do nothing, which would lead to his death. Tray told Renee he had chosen option three.
Renee, Tray’s mother and his doctor eventually talked him into trying the wheelchair to keep fighting. One day, Renee received a call from Tray’s social worker who told her that Tray had one wish – to spend a day on the Helena bus with Renee and Caroline.
The two women went to work making his wish a reality, though there were obstacles they had to overcome. First, the county couldn’t approve of Tray riding on the bus since he wasn’t a Shelby County student anymore, and insurance wouldn’t cover him riding a moving bus.
Renee didn’t give up though. Ultimately, they found a loophole. While they weren’t able to have Tray on the bus while it was moving, they were allowed to have him on the bus one last time if it was parked. Next came the task of tracking down the bus since it was not used in the Helena district anymore. The bus had been moved to a route at Oak Mountain, but they were able to get it detailed and cleaned so it would look nice for the special day.
Renee and Caroline picked him up and took him for a ride on Renee’s wheelchair-accessible van, then they took him to see the bus, which was decked out in his honor. There was a giant banner that read “Welcome Back,” and photos of Tray adorned the outside and the inside of the bus.
Upon his arrival, Tray was greeted by his former teachers, bus subs and the school principal. Everyone was smiling with eyes full of tears as they were so happy to see him back at the school and in such good spirits. His old computer teacher even allowed him to play his favorite computer game.
Renee and Caroline even had gifts for Tray related to the bus.
“All the kids who ride my bus, on their last day before they go off from Intermediate to Middle School, I would have them move their name tag to the back wall of the bus, and I would call it ‘The Wall of Fame,’” Renee says with a smile.
All these years later, she still has Tray’s elementary and intermediate name tags, and she put them on the Wall of Fame on that special day. They also gave him a cross arm from the old bus that was signed by Robertson with “Best Bus Ever – Tray Weems.”
“We just wanted to come up with things that would make it a fun day for him,” she says. “It went by so fast, but it was such a great day.”
Renee says it meant the world to her that everyone was able to come together to make the day so special for such a remarkable young man.
“It wasn’t just me and Caroline, it was the city of Helena,” she says. “He loved the whole thing, the teachers, the aids, the bus. He loves Helena and he loves the school. He fixated on the bus but we know it’s not about us; It was that feeling of just being loved on by everyone in the school system.”
Tray said that day on the bus was one of the best days of his life. He said it means everything to him to have the love and support of people like Renee and Caroline.
“Our bond can’t be duplicated for real,” he told Renee in a text. “No one I’ve met has come close to the way you guys made me feel. I consider y’all family.”
Tray just celebrated his 18th birthday, and he has a business called Techtray Mobile that sells clothing merchandise. Focusing on his business, his love of busses and his friendship with Renee are all things that keep him positive.
“I like to do things to keep my mind off my situation and that keeps me positive,” he says. “Like, I’ve got a business that I focus on a lot of the time. It helps me stay positive.”
They still love to laugh at the memories made on the bus, everything from Tray directing the bus route to bombarding Caroline with silly string, these are things Tray and Renee both hold dear to their hearts.
“I had no idea that the little things we did would mean so much,” Renee says. “You just don’t realize the impact of the little things you do that they impact someone in such a powerful way.”