The greed of a sports fan knows no bounds. It’s not enough that we want athletes to run faster, jump higher, hit the target more accurately, and in the end, defeat the bad guys. We also expect them to excel in the classroom, help old ladies across the street, give all the credit to their coaches and teammates, and, of course, most of all, to the fans.
We want them to be perfect role models. Some athletes don’t understand why giving it their all in their fields of excellence doesn’t quite feed the beast. They train and train and train, and then they entertain. While being entertained, we eat and drink, curse and belch.
It just doesn’t seem like a fair trade.
It used to bother two-time tennis gold medalist Nick Taylor — an extraordinary talent who didn’t take up the sport until he turned 14 — that it wasn’t enough that 10 years later, he and his doubles partner were the best in the world, winning a gold medal they successfully defended four years later.
Inevitably, when queried about his tennis achievements, Taylor had to answer the I-word question.
“When I was younger, ‘inspire’ was like a cuss word to me,” Taylor said. “It drove me nuts. I felt, ‘I just want to be an athlete. I don’t want to inspire.’ Now I get it.”
Along the way, others, such as tennis tournament organizer Bunny Williams, helped Taylor to get it. He would hear her tell others, “You’ve got to see this guy play tennis. He could inspire a light pole.”
By playing the game from a wheelchair. Taylor was born with a severe case of a condition known as arthrogryposis. He put his disability into laymen’s terms by saying, “I have muscles on one side of the joint and not on the other, and that pattern goes all the way through my body, at least in my legs and arms.”
His gold medals came in the Paralympics, in Athens in 2004, and in Beijing in 2008. He works as a volunteer assistant for Wichita State’s men’s tennis team, and teaches classes at WSU in sports management and sports sociology. He also plays tennis exhibitions and gives — forgive the word, but it fits — inspirational speeches.
Taylor will play an exhibition Saturday at Jayhawk Tennis Center against pro Kyle Marcum, who then will get into a wheelchair and play Taylor again.
“When the average able-bodied pro gets into a chair and plays, he looks — I’m trying to think of words to use that won’t get me in trouble — I don’t know, lost, silly?” Taylor said.
He wants no sympathy in the first match.
“We know each other, and Kyle knows how much trash I’m going to be talking to him, and he’s fully aware of what’s going to happen when he gets in a chair,” Taylor said.
Tickets for “Rally for Respite,” a benefit for Trinity In-Home Care, can be obtained at the door or in advance by contacting Kirsty Elliott at 842-3159 or firstname.lastname@example.org.