Elana Meyers Taylor’s impossible: from the NICU back to the bobsled podium

Elana Meyers Taylor
Getty Images

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.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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