In the days leading up to his departure for for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Nick Taylor came to realize the pressure he’s facing.
“I’ve been very fortunate to come away with a gold medal every time I’ve come home from the Paralympics,” Taylor said. “I guess it would be a little different to come home without one, so it’s a lot of pressure.”
The 36-year-old Wichita native, who was born with arthrogyrposis, a congenital disease that contracts and restricts muscular development, is set for his fourth Paralympics. Taylor and his doubles partner, David Wagner, have won the gold medal in the last three Paralympic Games and won more than a dozen Grand Slam titles. In 2012, Taylor also came away with a bronze medal in singles after finishing fourth in 2004 and 2008.
But Taylor says these Paralympics will be the most challenging.
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He is ranked No. 18 in the world in the quad division for singles, and No. 4 for doubles. In years past, Taylor had wrapped up his Paralympic qualification well in advance. This year he didn’t secure a spot in Rio until May at the Japan Open.
“The target has been on our backs since 2004,” Taylor said. “Each time a Paralympics goes around and we win and each time a Grand Slam comes around and we win, the target just gets a little bigger. More people are coming at it. We end up seeing the best each team has to offer because people get up to play us more than anyone else.”
But Taylor enjoys that type of competition because he says it elevates his own game. Whereas Grand Slams are valued more than the Olympics for professional tennis players, the reverse is true in wheelchair tennis.
The Paralympics are where players earn their reputations and Taylor and Wagner take great pride in their unbeaten streak since winning gold in 2004.
“The target is on our back for a reason,” Taylor said. “We’ve been able to win so much and we’ve played together for so long. When we get in a tough situation, we’ve done it. We’ve been there. There’s really nothing we haven’t seen and gone through.”
Taylor calls Wagner the best player in the world at the net in the quad division, while he feels like it is his job to patrol the baseline and keep points alive long enough for Wagner to finish them off. It’s a strategythat has proven effective over the years because they complement each other so well.
Over the last decade-plus of traveling the world and playing, Taylor still hasn’t tired from the grind. He still enjoys playing and is motivated by the support he receives from Wichita State, where he is the volunteer director of operations for the men’s tennis team, and the Wichita community.
“All of the support from the Wichita community, family, friends, that’s what helps me do it,” Taylor said. “To be able to go win for them, that would mean a lot. That’s why I was out here hitting serves at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night trying to get ready to go. That’s what it takes and I know that and I’m happy to do it.”
The Rio schedule has yet to be released, although the first day of competition for quad tennis begins on Friday.
It may be his fourth Paralympic Games, but Taylor said each one is special and he’s looking forward to adding another memory — hopefully ending with one more gold medal.
“It’s such a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Taylor said. “You’re representing your country, but you get to see so many other athletes in so many other sports doing amazing things and you get to meet them and hang out with them. I think Rio is going to be unbelievable.
“Each Games has had a completely different experience that there’s no way you could replace that without being there.”