Elana Meyers Taylor’s impossible: from the NICU back to the bobsled podium
When Elana Meyers Taylor recently finished her first bobsled World Cup run in 22 months, she performed an unprecedented feat in a career that’s included three Olympic medals and two world titles in the two-woman event.
She stepped out of her sled and grabbed her 10-month-old son, Nico, from her husband, Nic Taylor.
Nic called it “the most special moment” of the first month of what they labeled “the traveling circus.” The Taylors flew to Europe around the New Year to rejoin the international bobsled circuit, traversing Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
When Meyers Taylor finished that comeback run in Winterberg, Germany, on Jan. 9, moving the 400-pound sled out of the finish area became a family affair.
“We passed Nico off like a baton,” said Nic, who is taking virtual chiropractic school classes, serves as his wife’s strength and conditioning coach and was an alternate for the U.S. men’s teams this season, in addition to the new dad duties. “The three members of our family all worked together to get something done, and it went off perfectly.”
Meyers Taylor competes in the world championships starting Friday in Altenberg, Germany (TV schedule here). It caps a year-long journey that began not on a bobsled track in Central Europe, but in WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Georgia.
Nico was born between the third and fourth heats of the 2020 World Championships. Meyers Taylor, who took the entire 2019-20 season off, was in labor for two days, induced three weeks early, before undergoing an emergency C-section.
On Nico’s birthday, Feb. 22, doctors told the Taylors they suspected he had Down syndrome. Two days later, Meyers Taylor was in the neonatal intensive care unit — Nico spent his first eight days there — when it was confirmed. Nico also had profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and wears hearing aids.
“From the moment we laid eyes on him, of course we fell in love with him,” she said. “It didn’t even matter what diagnosis he had.”
The Taylors expected to have the proverbial village to help raise Nico. But all that changed between the time Meyers Taylor went into labor and shortly after they left Kennestone, where Georgia’s first coronavirus death was reported March 12.
“When the world shut down, that really limited who was able to come and give us the help,” she said.
Meyers Taylor, while in the NICU, had a distinct thought that returning to bobsled would be impossible, but she forged on later that spring, training in her garage. Though the pandemic brought restrictions, it also allowed her husband to travel with her when his classes went online.
“I couldn’t imagine him not being on tour with us,” she said. “He’s been the rock that’s holding us together.”
Nic, who can be seen trackside with Nico strapped to his chest, demurred.
“She does all the heavy lifting in our family,” he said. “She is literally the keystone. Without her, things would fall apart completely and instantly.”
Meyers Taylor, who for years recruited U.S. athletes from other sports to bobsled, leaned on other Team USA moms.
She exchanged messages with hockey twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando and diver Laura Wilkinson. She hired a core specialist who came recommended by track stars Allyson Felix and Alysia Montaño.
One of the first people to reach out to Meyers Taylor post-childbirth was a woman who volunteered with GiGi’s Playhouse. She introduced the Taylors to the non-profit that offers free services for life to individuals with Down syndrome.
Meyers Taylor was so grateful for the support that she reciprocated, offering to wear a GiGi’s logo sticker on her race helmet. Other athletes now slide for GiGi’s, too, including in the sister sport of skeleton and Austrian male driver Benjamin Maier.
This season, it took Meyers Taylor just one week to return to the podium. She finished second or third in the last five races — and held Nico on the awards stand — but still seeks that first victory as a mom.
Nico doesn’t sleep through the night. “He likes to party, and he likes to make his own rules,” Nic joked in a 9 p.m. phone interview with Nico clearly wide awake.
Meyers Taylor’s back, which has given her problems as long as she can remember, has good days and bad days.
Yet in her second race this season, she and push athlete Sylvia Hoffman broke the track start record in St. Moritz, Switzerland, usually a sign that all is right physically.
“It’s weird to go into a world championships and not feel like you’re firing on all cylinders, but I’m getting there,” said Meyers Taylor, who estimated she’s at about 85% and climbing going into worlds in Altenberg, a track that doesn’t particularly suit her.
Meyers Taylor, an Olympic bronze medalist in 2010 and silver medalist in 2014, showed her ability to push through pain at the 2018 Olympics. She was in second place after three of four runs, trailing German Mariama Jamanka by .04 going into the finale, despite a torn Achilles.
Nic asked how she felt before the last run.
“She said, ‘I’m either going to tear it off the bone trying to win, or I’m not going to compete at all,’ and then she walked away,” Nic remembered. “I was like, oh my God, maybe that’s why I don’t have any Olympic medals. … I realized she’s different. And she’s special. And whatever that is, I don’t have it.”
She ended up with a second consecutive silver medal. One can imagine Meyers Taylor’s burning desire to make her fourth Olympic medal her first gold in Beijing in 2022. Her dream is to actually win two golds in Beijing — in the two-woman event and the new monobob race — but all the changes in the last year brought a new perspective.
“Win, lose or draw, I’ve got a gold medal waiting for me every night when I walk through the door,” she said.
Nick Zaccardi NBC sports