SAN JOSE — From the time he was able to handle a ball — about 2 years old — Tyler Nii demonstrated his aptitude and passion for sports.
The sports included basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, baseball and volleyball, said his mother, Nancy Nii. He wanted to do whatever his big brother, Kevin, did.
Tyler Nii, 27, a tennis coach at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, apparently died Wednesday trying out a new sport– skydiving — in southern New Zealand. On their descent, Nii and a tandem skydiving instructor plunged into icy-cold Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown.
The instructor was rescued by three local people who happened to hear a radioed SOS call and rushed out in a boat, but Nii had sunk into the lake, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald.
Nii’s body has not been recovered, and he is presumed dead.
“We are pretty much still in shock and disbelief,” Nancy Nii, of San Jose, wrote in an email.
Nii was a beloved instructor and coach at Mitty and at Player Capital, which runs youth tennis programs from Redwood City to Cupertino.
He was a graduate of Leigh High School in San Jose and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He joined Mitty in the fall of 2013 as the girls tennis coach, then became the varsity boys tennis coach and and also coached with Player Capital. He was a member of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Northern California board.
Nii always seemed to have a smile on his face, said Michael Jessup, founder of Player Capital. “He always had an upbeat attitude,” Jessup said. “He was somebody the students, his coworkers and myself always wanted to be around.”
As a boy, Nii played multiple sports until his exhausted parents made him focus on just two. “He told me he could do them all still and wouldn’t get tired and would keep his grades up,” his mother wrote. “We told him that we knew he could do them all but we (his parents and drivers) couldn’t.”
Tyler chose tennis and basketball. He played those in school and clubs, including the San Jose Zebra youth organization.
In college, he taught tennis and coached a youth basketball league.
“He always amazed us at how good he was with these kids, and how positive and encouraging he was with them,” his mother said.
The condolence letters from his students are heartbreaking, said Jason Scalese of Player Capital, who preceded Nii at Mitty as varsity coach. To kids who regarded him as a big brother, “Tyler ended up being easily one of our most popular coaches,” he said.
Kind and patient, Nii also was adventurous and independent. He enjoyed traveling solo — to Madrid and London before the trip to New Zealand — but also getting together with numerous friends.
“He inspired and motivated me and others to enjoy life to the fullest, go after our dreams and try new experiences we were on the fence about,” said Mark Akizuki, of Fremont, a longtime friend of Nii’s from church, basketball and Boy Scouts.
Akizuki described Nii as an avid learner with a sense of curiosity, always seeking to expand his knowledge. He loved dogs — especially Bishop, whom he adopted while in college.
Nancy and her husband, Bob, will travel to New Zealand on Monday, hoping to return with their son’s body.
Speaking for Tyler Nii’s friends, Akizuki said, “We’re all very devastated and shaken by his unexpected passing. We all love him and consider him a brother.”