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Four-time Paralympic medalist visits Great Bend
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Dustin Wheeler, Tennis Director at Club 1 Fitness in Great Bend, invited Nick Taylor, a Paralympic Tennis medalist from Wichita, to play in an exhibition game Thursday night to help raise funds for Barton County Relay for Life. In addition to amazing the crowd with his amazing wheelchair tennis skills, he delivered a motivational talk aimed at encouraging the audience to believe they can achieve their dreams despite hardships. - photo by Veronica Coons

Nick Taylor decided in the eighth grade that he wanted to play high school sports.  Because he was born with disabilities that kept him wheelchair bound, he knew right away all contact sports were out.  That left tennis and golf as possibilities.

“I don’t know why, but I picked tennis,” he said.  

On Thursday night, Club 1 Fitness hosted an exhibition game between Taylor and Club 1 Tennis Director Dustin Wheeler and select students, with ticket proceeds being donated to Barton County Relay for Life.  Games included one with Wheeler playing as he normally would against Taylor, then a game with Wheeler in a wheelchair designed for sports participation.  The exhibition ended with a game of up / down doubles, in which one able-bodied player and one wheelchair bound player make up a doubles team.

Getting started

It took time to learn how to hold and swing a racket, and in the beginning, he couldn’t even hit the ball five feet, he said.  He eventually could practice hitting against the garage door.  

The next year, he found the high school tennis coach somewhat intimidating.   He put the word out among the rest of the teachers that he wanted to play tennis, and eventually, the coach asked him to join the team.  That was his freshman year.  

“I never won a singles event my first four years of playing,” Taylor said.  He admits, he was the worst player on his team during his freshman year,  but he was one of the top two players on his team during his senior year.  “There were only 11 kids I could beat, but unfortunately they were all on my team.”

Taylor’s sense of humor is infectious.  It’s part of what makes him a sought after speaker, with engagements not only in his hometown of Wichita, but all over the country.  

One lucky break really helped Taylor to imagine what the sport of tennis could have in store for him, and it came shortly after he began his high school tennis career.  In 1994, the sport of wheelchair tennis was so new, he says he didn’t even know it existed.  Then, two weeks after he began practicing with the team, he learned Randy Snow, the world’s number one wheelchair tennis player would be giving a seminar in Wichita --that night.  His dad took him to the event, and there, with a handful of other players, he became inspired.

While many wheelchair bound tennis players use manual chairs, the Taylor uses a motorized chair, which is sanctioned because his disabilities do not allow him to operate a manual chair.  

In the Epoch Times, a publication from England, Sept. 16, 2011 edition, writer Kristen Meriwether wrote, “Controlling his chair, which many wheelchair players agree is the most challenging aspect of the game, proved another obstacle. The manual chairs are much easier to control, as they weigh only 12 pounds and can turn on a dime.”

“No matter how severely disabled my opponent is, or is not, everybody is less disabled than I am,” Taylor said. “As a result, I have to try and outthink people.”

His two-pages plus resume lists  numerous accomplishments, including international quad championship titles and three medal winning trips to the Paralympic Games including Athens, Beijing and twice to London. But that’s not all.  It lists several leadership positions and volunteer work, and several honors  from the United States Tennis Associations and Wichita State University, not to mention two bachelors degrees, one in business and one in sport administration, and a Masters of Sport Administration, all from WSU.

Paralympic games

At the start of his tennis career, he remembers some of his family and friends were supportive, while others were not.

“At the time, I thought it was discouraging, but now I can see it was out of protectiveness because they didn’t think I could do it,” he said.  But just ten years later, Taylor would travel to Athens with his doubles partner, David Wagner, for the 2004 Paralympic games. There, they would win his first gold medal in wheelchair tennis doubles.  They took gold again at Beijing in 2008, and in 2012, they travelled to London where they not only took gold again in the doubles category, but Taylor took home a bronze medal in singles too.

Since he returned from London, he said he has been playing several exhibition games like the one in Great Bend.  In addition he plays  in 15 International Tennis Federation tournaments a year.  But even with all that, he’s far from sitting on easy street.

“My disabilities are such that I need an assistant whenever I travel away from home for more than a few hours,” he said.  For the most part, that means his father.  His winnings tend to cover his expenses, and that is all.  But that doesn’t discourage him.  He also teaches at Wichita State University and volunteers as the assistant coach for the the Shockers mens tennis team.  

He hopes to inspire others that they can achieve whatever they want to, despite any hardships they may be faced with.  Considering he went from barely hitting a ball five feet to being the wheelchair tennis equivalent of Roger Federer, he speaks from experience.