“It’s been a pretty amazing year,” Todd Taylor, a principal traffic engineer in the city’s Transportation Department said.
Many would consider Todd’s statement amazing in itself, considering the trials he’s faced in the past two years. The positive remark is testament to an inner strength that has taken Todd all the way to the windy slopes of Winter Park, Colorado, and a dream of qualifying for the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team.
In early 2014, Todd was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, or R.P. His condition progressed quickly and while Todd has some central vision, he has little to no peripheral vision, making him legally blind.
Todd took to the task of learning his new normal with the assistance of adaptive training and quickly learned how to do things like check emails, use his smartphone and travel to and from the office without driving.
“To lose your mobility, it’s life-changing,” Todd said. “But you have to keep going.”
So when a friend told Todd, an avid recreational skier and former Deer Valley Ski Patrol member, about an opportunity to reconnect with skiing through the Foresight Ski Guide Program in Vail, Colorado, Todd didn’t hesitate.
The program, which allows the visually-impaired to ski with the aid of a guide, was what Todd described as an “immediate form of cheap therapy.”
“It was liberating to feel that rush of wind against my face and my heart thumping in my chest,” Todd said. “There’s a lot of trust involved, knowing someone is watching out for you. My guide had to tell me, ‘Stop trying to see – just ski.’”
Todd also discovered he was fast. Skiing with Foresight triggered his desire to pursue his dream of ski racing in the Paralympics.
The first step – Todd had to become classified as a visually-impaired skier by the International Paralympic Committee. This required a trip last November to British Colombia, where Todd was examined and certified by the committee’s doctors.
Now, Todd has been invited to train as part of a Paralympic Development Program at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and participate in racing events to qualify for the National Team.
A new challenge for Todd and his family has been funding the expense. Alpine ski racing is costly due to specialized equipment, travel, training and race fees. As a visually-impaired athlete, Todd’s expenses dramatically increase because he must also pay for his guide and the guide’s expenses while he trains and competes.
But while the experience has not been without challenges, it’s a journey Todd is grateful for.
Sponsors, friends and family have helped with equipment and donations. Todd is thankful for the support and hopes to build on it, since it may take a few years of training and racing to make the National team.
He’s also in good company as part of the National Sports Center’s Paralympic Development Program, where he trains among an elite group of athletes with visual impairments, amputations, cerebral palsy and other physical challenges.
“It’s inspiring to hear other’s stories and to watch these athletes,” Todd said. “And I’ve had the opportunity to train with athletes from South Africa, Australia, Japan and other international teams.”
It was through the development program that Todd met Nick Manely – another disabled Alpine ski racer who now doubles as Todd’s guide.
As Todd shares his story, he recounts what defined his amazing year thus far:
The entire family – wife Nikki, sons Mack, 11, Brody, 9 and daughter Kate, 5 – learned how to ski.
He found a guide.
He improved his technical skiing – humbled by a few nasty wrecks and some direct coaching.
When he returned from his first competitive race, discouraged that he didn’t finish as well as hoped, Mack was there to put his accomplishment in perspective – excitedly greeting him at the airport and telling him he was proud that his dad had finished.
They’re amazing moments Todd holds tight to, as he looks ahead and continues his dream.
If you’re interested in supporting or learning more about Todd’s ski racing journey, visit http://tiny.cc/toddtaylor.
Story by Holly Walter, public information officer, City of Scottsdale