sports psychologist & clinical psychology

NEW REGIMEN, ATTITUDE KEEP WICHITAN AHEAD OF THE GAME

Apr 27, 2007 – Congrats Nick Taylor! See from this article below: Noted performance psychologist John F. Murray annually selects a list of the top 100 performing individuals living, people who epitomize “the principles and lessons of high performance psychology.”

Among the athletes to make it this year are Brett Favre, Dwyane Wade, Tiger Woods — and Nick Taylor.

It’s not just athletes, either. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Ted Turner are on the list. Taylor’s name is listed right below Nelson Mandela.

“I thought about calling Christina Aguilera and saying, ‘Hey, you know, we’re on this list together .. ,’ ” Taylor joked.

While it’s just a subjective list, it’s another accomplishment no one could have imagined.}

The Wichita Eagle – Jeffrey Parson – Nick Taylor has won a gold medal at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and six U.S. Open tennis titles, but he’s refining his game with help from two men who aren’t afraid to push Taylor for more.

Nick Taylor has won a gold medal at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and six U.S. Open tennis titles, but he’s refining his game with help from two men who aren’t afraid to push Taylor for more.

For all his fancy degrees and scientific titles, Jeremy Patterson might as well have been a garage door to Nick Taylor that day. It was last September, and Taylor — one of the top wheelchair tennis players in the world — went to Patterson for advice. Patterson is a clinical exercise physiologist and an assistant professor at Wichita State, so Taylor thought he could provide some guidance on an exercise routine Taylor had recently started.

“I thought I was asking questions that would get a five-minute answer,” Taylor said. “I’m still getting the answer.”

That’s because Patterson shunned anything resembling a pat on the back, telling Taylor that 85 percent of his work was all but useless. He challenged Taylor to find his way onto a rowing machine — despite Taylor’s missing biceps and triceps, or an inability to bend his legs.

Taylor was taken aback.

“I don’t think he knew how far I would go with it,” Taylor said. “I don’t think he realized that telling me I couldn’t do something would just tick me off into doing it even more.”

Patterson did not understand, Taylor thought, what exactly went into Taylor overcoming the disease arthrogyposis multiplex congenita — which barely allows him to move his misformed hands and feet — to become a champion.

Patterson did not know that Taylor, as a 15-year-old, spent countless hours in front of his grandma’s garage, finding a way to hit a ball back to himself.

With blistered and bloodied hands, Taylor willed himself to be able to play, willed himself to move from two-handed shots to his own version of a left-handed swing that allowed his right hand to control the wheelchair. He invented a serve that starts with balancing the ball on his foot and propelling it up, for goodness sake.

This professor from Australia, Taylor was sure, did not know that Taylor was considered miraculous for playing tennis at West High, much less for going on to become the top-ranked quadriplegic wheelchair player in the world. Patterson had not seen the hardware — including a gold medal from the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and trophies for six U.S. Open singles and double titles — Taylor had earned with grit and sweat.

Nearing age 27, Taylor found the reserve of determination most cannot understand and directed it at that rowing machine, at the man who seemed to scoff at the notion Taylor needed to be treated differently.

As he was losing 18 pounds of fat and adding five pounds of muscle — startling numbers that transformed his capabilities off the court even more than on it — Taylor was sure Patterson was starting to understand.

Only there was something Taylor didn’t know initially, either. He wasn’t aware that Patterson had spent most of his adulthood studying people with physical limitations or liabilities. Patterson was intensely curious as to how science could help their lives.

Numerous times, Patterson met people with congestive heart failure, broken spirits who had been told they had a year or two to live. So he presented them with a four-year exercise plan, the defiance and fortitude inherent.

Taylor couldn’t know he had met someone who believed in the willpower and personality as much as Taylor himself.

Just recently, looking back eight months later, Taylor pondered it: Perhaps Patterson knew exactly the type of person he was challenging.

“Maybe he did,” Taylor said. “He’s a smart guy. Maybe in the first five minutes, he read me.”

To be honest, it’s not that difficult.

Another Aussie

The words come pulsating out of the computer’s speakers as images of Taylor crushing tennis balls whir on the monitor.

“ONE, nothing wrong with me. TWO, nothing wrong with me.”

It’s part of a self-made video Taylor put on Youtube.com (search for “greatest kick serve”) in hopes of landing sponsorship. The song is “Bodies” by Drowning Pool, a pseudo-anthem for the mosh-pit crowd. Taylor had never heard it until a friend suggested it for the video.

“The rest of the song is kind of crazy,” Taylor said, “but those 12 seconds work perfect.”

Taylor’s world ranking in singles is down to No. 3, and it bothers him. The simple explanation is a significant increase in competition and that Taylor’s limitations are way beyond the norm.

Most of the players Taylor faces have considerable arm movement, much less the muscles themselves. Taylor’s doubles partner, David Wagner of Portland, Ore., is a former college tennis player who was paralyzed in a swimming accident.

“He has to tape the racquet to his hand, but he’s got full shoulders, a full upper body,” Taylor said. “He’s enormous. His arms are the size of my head.”

In a “nothing wrong with me” approach, though, the logic is not good enough for Taylor.

And Darius Schwarz knew that right away. Schwarz grew up in Australia after age 5, and he was one of that country’s top junior tennis players.

Now 26, Schwarz was hired in January 2005 as the associate head teniis coach at WSU. Since Taylor was always hanging around practice, lending an experienced eye to the point he is almost part of the program, Schwarz got to know him quickly.

The two clicked. Through hitting sessions and dinners, they became friends.

That has been crucial in the coach-player relationship for one reason: honesty.

“We spend so much time away from the court, there’s more than just tennis,” Schwarz said. “That allows me to say what I really think all the time.”

So Schwarz pushes Taylor, especially on how to construct points to take advantage of the tendencies of stronger players. The standard, “You did your best,” is not a favorite of Schwarz despite his “no worries” attitude off the court.

Schwarz even took the time to work in Taylor’s backup chair, trying to get a better idea of playing that way.

“Nick had to lower all the speeds on it,” Schwarz said. “On his chair, he has all the speeds set to maximum. Seriously, no one else can drive it. We’ll get it off the bus and have a guy jump in it thinking it’s easy, and he’ll almost lose it into a parked car.

“The dexterity and fine motor skills he needs to run that are out of this world.”

Seeing a friend investing himself like Schwarz was heartening to Taylor. But for a guy whose competitive nature swallows up everything else, what mattered most was that Schwarz was not going to be content with Taylor’s current success.

“Most people meet me and go, ‘Oh my God, how do you do it?’ And that’s fine, it’s a compliment,” Taylor said. “Darius and Jeremy looked at me and went, ‘That’s cool, man, but you know, if you did this, this and this, it could be better.’ That’s what I needed.”

Not slowing down

Noted performance psychologist John F. Murray annually selects a list of the top 100 performing individuals living, people who epitomize “the principles and lessons of high performance psychology.”

Among the athletes to make it this year are Brett Favre, Dwyane Wade, Tiger Woods — and Nick Taylor.

It’s not just athletes, either. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Ted Turner are on the list. Taylor’s name is listed right below Nelson Mandela.

“I thought about calling Christina Aguilera and saying, ‘Hey, you know, we’re on this list together .. ,’ ” Taylor joked.

While it’s just a subjective list, it’s another accomplishment no one could have imagined.

At 27, able-bodied tennis players are normally on the downside of their careers.

And Taylor has options outside tennis. This June, he is scheduled to complete a master’s degree in sports administration to go with two bachelor’s degrees — all from WSU.

“Before I went to Athens, I was thinking about making it my last tournament,” Taylor said. “Then I got there. Before the opening ceremony, I knew I wasn’t quitting. It was just too cool.”

Asked what could change his mind now, Taylor smiled.

“For the right girl,” he said, “I might not do anything.”

He thinks his left thumb joint, where the pressure of his unusual swing mounts, “might explode,” which could force him off the court.

Other than that, Taylor said his biggest fear is funding. He travels the world playing tennis. Just in his World Team Cup (the wheelchair equivalent of Davis Cup) experience alone, he has been to France, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, New Zealand, Netherlands and Brazil.

The travel is terribly expensive. While most wheelchair players fly separately and room together, Taylor has to have a travel partner — his father, Bill — to take care of basic needs.

So everything costs double. Head provides him with racquets, adidas provides clothes and Invacare donates wheelchair parts. PantherVision, a company that makes hands-free lighting equipment, is Taylor’s only monetary sponsor, though.

And the prize money, for most tournaments, is less than the entry fee.

So Taylor relies on sponsors and donations, and the “near begging” gets old, he said.

“That is what could make me quit,” he said. “But the sport is exploding. I don’t want to quit, and tournaments start handing out better prize money or great sponsorship deals, like my friends in Europe get, become available.

“Plus, I don’t want to give up tennis. It’s everything to me. I could compete in this sport forever.”

The B-word

Boiled down, the transformation of Taylor is driven by one thing: Beijing.

That’s where the Olympics and Paralympics will be held next year, and Taylor is aiming for gold medals in singles and doubles.

The team will be selected by a point system based on results starting late next month. So after an intentionally slow winter, Taylor plans to compete in every major tournament after May.

It’s why he hangs on Patterson’s every word, why his mood is based on each of the numerous tests he takes for Patterson.

“I’m a lab rat for him, and that’s fine with me,” Taylor said. “He’s tried a lot of innovative things, some of which didn’t work but most of which did. As competitive as I am, I want as much feedback as I can get.”

There are almost no limits to the feedback Patterson can provide, considering all his high-tech tools. He approaches Taylor’s fitness the same way he approaches that of former WSU runner Nathan Wadsworth, who trains under Patterson and recently finished 21st in the Boston Marathon.

“Nick’s an elite athlete, and he has to be treated as one,” Patterson said. “With the rowing machine, he can’t do it like an able-bodied person, but I thought he could find a way. He picks up on things very quickly, adapts very rapidly. Clearly, he’s had to do that his entire life.

“So while that might seem intimidating, I told him he needed to learn it. I knew he liked the challenge.”

When Taylor grunts to get his legs in place and carefully manages to work his hands around a V-grip connected to the rowing machine, he is looking way ahead.

The perhaps two hours he will spend essentially leaning forward and backward from his midsection are a path, a way he can see to somehow improving on the court.

When everyone else seemed unsure, Patterson and Schwarz created the possibility.

And that’s all Taylor asked.

“With my physical limitations, I had pretty much perfected what I could do in tennis,” Taylor said. “They have allowed me to think of new potential. It’s like I’m a whole new guy.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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