Tattoos Tell a Story: Tyler Rupp Unveiled


“You can feel the eyes upon you … you can’t hear ’em talk, other times you can, same old clichés.” ~ Bob Seger, “Here I am, on the Road Again

Despite the awkward glances, rolls-of-the-eyes, and quick judgments when first encountered in public, Tyler Rupp is comfortable in his skin.

Emblazoned with body and face tattoos and sporting earplugs, Rupp, 30, who got his first tattoo at age 15, considers his body a canvas inked with art that proclaims,”, “This is my body and who I am, my values, and my personality. ”

Every tattoo and etching has something to do with my life,” Tyler Rupp said. “People put all these stereotypes on me, that I’ve been in prison, a gang or cult member: That is so far from the truth.”

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Tyler Rupp revisits IHM in Monroe, where he recuperated from severe injuries after being told he would never walk again. TOM HAWLEY/MONROE NEWS

The images that Rupp, a Monroe native and graduate of Monroe High School, puts on his body mean more than meets the eye.

The one of a skull with roses relates to his cheating death following a harrowing escape from a motorcycle crash at age 25.

Speeding impatiently through heavy traffic on Monroe Street, he weaved around a car, striking a turning left van. The impact caused the cycle to slide underneath the truck and erupt into flames.

“It was my fault,” he admits.

A fellow rider and a bystander pulled Ruff from the wreckage, but not before he suffered third-degree burns over 39 per cent of his body, a traumatic brain injury, a shattered right leg, and a broken shoulder.

There followed six months at Beaumont Hospital in Trenton, six surgeries, and a year-and-a-half of inpatient physical therapy at the Sisters, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) complex, Monroe.

Ruff, who still experiences difficulty with balance, credits the IHM sisters and staff with “teaching me how to walk again.”

He said impromptu, open-ended conversations with the Sisters about personal beliefs and religious practices “helped me discover my inner strength and spirituality.”

“A big part of my recovery is being who I am,” she said.

Time spent in therapy, he also deepened his relationship with his parents, who took turns assisting the Sisters in the painful process of changing burn bandages.

At 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing 300 pounds, he said, “It took help to lift my legs. I became known as the screaming tattooed man.”

He continues his therapy through daily workouts at the Monroe Family YMCA.

Individuals get tattoos for various reasons and motivations, including to showcase and express their identity, symbolism, experiences, and artistic expression.

According to the Pew Research Center, 2023, many United States adults say that society has become more accepting of individuals with tattoos in recent decades:  more than 32% have at least one tattoo, including 22% who have more than one.

While 29% say seeing a tattoo on someone gives them a more unfavourable than favourable impression of that person, 66% say the sighting leaves them with neither a positive nor negative impression.

Even though women are generally judged harsher by their appearance, according to Reuters, more women are now sporting tattoos than men.

As tattoos increase in status, visible ink is unlikely to raise eyebrows across various professions. According to the Colorado State College of Business Research, most Americans would be comfortable seeing a person with visible tattoos, including athletes (86%), IT technicians (78%), chefs (78%), primary school teachers, judges, paediatricians (59%), and even presidential candidates (58%).

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Nicole Kennedy, 43, IHM nursing home administrator, reminisces with Tyler Rupp, 30, about the time, as his nurse, she treated his severely burned legs resulting from a traumatic motorcycle accident. TOM HAWLEY/MONROE NEWS

Employers have been slow to accept tattoos in the workplace. While research finds no empirical evidence of employment, wage, or earnings discrimination against individuals with various types of tattoos, about 40% of employers believe tattoos aren’t appropriate.

While tattoos have moved beyond the cultural stigma, the majority of Americans (85%) say they are not likely to get one in the future. Twenty-three per cent say they regret getting one.

The seismic shift in reactions to body tattoos doesn’t apply to face tattoos and earplugs; Rupp says, “You get ten times more weird looks. ”

Whether one approves or disapproves of facial inking is age-related: 92% of Americans 60 and older disapprove of facial inking, while 71% of 30- to 59-year-olds and 59-year-olds feel. Over 53% of 18– to 29-year-olds like face tattoos, with 25% liking them on both men and women, according to Statista Research Service.

Rupp is committed to his nonconformist lifestyle — he sometimes wears a moo-moo after finding hospital gowns comfortable during his stay at IHM and has performed as an elderly drag queen — he’s gotten 70 new tattoos since his accident. He plans to continue etching his identity on his skin with even more extreme forms of body art.

“It gives me confidence and makes me happy,” he said.

Taking entrepreneurial advantage of what the 6-foot-four, 300-plus pound Rupp calls his “scary appearance,” he helped start and continues to work at Haunting in the Hills, a Halloween-themed attraction in the Irish Hills in Jackson County.

His roguish image overshadows a softer side. A devoted family man, a typical evening for Rupp, his wife Jessica, and two stepchildren, Kim, 15, and Kaden, 13, might be eating popcorn and watching a TV movie.

He recently couldn’t remember Jessica’s favourite popcorn seasoning, so he bought eight.

When asked about his favourite tattoo, he said, “My favourite one is always the next one.”

Mike Kiefer can be reached at [email protected].

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