In the course of three years,
Taylor Graham has accomplished many things: Survived a motorcycle accident,
adjusted to a spinal cord injury and a new life in a wheelchair, picked up the sport
of wheelchair tennis, graduated from Southeast Community College, and even got
married. So what could possibly be next?
“We have a goal of competing
in the Paralympics in 2020,” said Kevin Heim, his wheelchair tennis coach.
Flash back to Aug. 29, 2013.
Graham was riding his motorcycle in south Lincoln. It was early in the evening,
and he was making a left turn, and he remembers a van with no brake lights, his
motorcycle skidding and his body flying through the air. He called it a “God
“It was an out-of-body
experience, it was weird, time had stopped,” he said.
His body hit the van, but he
does remember talking to a first responder, even knew her from church (another
God moment), and telling her to call his father. He remembers the pain and
being strapped onto a gurney. Once the paramedics arrived, things started to
When he woke up in the
Intensive Care Unit at Bryan Medical Center West a few days later, he found out
he was on breathing support and had collapsed lungs. He was told he had a
spinal cord injury and would likely be paralyzed.
“I accepted it,” he said
simply. “Having those ‘God moments’ helped with my attitude.”
Once he faced the reality of
his future, he was eager to learn everything that he could do. While at Madonna
Rehabilitation Hospital he met Rick Haith, a recreational therapist who also
was in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident.
“I always look for potential
in patients,” Haith said. “He reminded me of myself. He had the attitude that
he would do anything; bring it on.”
Haith says when individuals
become physically disabled in a traumatic way like Graham, they have to
overcome physical and emotional hurdles.
“Taylor never experienced
that,” Haith said. “He’s very fortunate he didn’t go down the dark hole of
Haith helped Graham keep busy
by working out, introducing him to adaptive sports and enrolling at SCC. While
at the College he took a career development course and discovered he wanted to
enroll in the Welding Technology program.
“I like how you can be
artistic, and it’s hands-on, more manual labor,” he said.
Meanwhile, Haith encouraged
him to try competitive wheelchair sports like basketball, golf, bowling, and
tennis. Initially he didn’t think he could play tennis because it was difficult
to grip the racquet, since he doesn’t have full use of his hands. They
discovered that athletic tape would be a helpful tool. Every time he plays, he
tapes the racquet to his hand. The more he played, the more he became a fan of
“I loved tennis more than the
other things, so I learned as much as I could.” Graham said. “I like it for the
social and health benefits, and it gives me something to look forward to.”
He started playing once a
week with other players from Madonna at Woods Park. That evolved into local
tournaments and then national tournaments. In October he played at the 2016 U.S.
Open USTA Wheelchair Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. He and his partner,
Jack Spicer, won the Men’s Wheelchair B Doubles category.
Graham is ranked sixth nationally
and has his eye on tournaments in Tucson, Arizona, and Palm Springs,
California. He plays both doubles and singles, but prefers singles.
“I like to rely on myself,”
Wheelchair tennis follows the
same rules as able-bodied tennis except the wheelchair tennis player is allowed
two bounces before they must hit the ball. There are two classifications of
wheelchair tennis. Open Class is for those with permanent impairment to one or
both legs, but still have the use of their arms. Quad Class is for those with
impairment to both arms and legs. Graham plays in both categories.
He takes private weekly
lessons from Kevin Heim, executive director of Woods Tennis Center. Heim was
able to travel with Graham to the U.S. Open in St. Louis. He says Graham is a
quick study and has good mobility in his “sport chair,” which is a type of
wheelchair created for sports. Heim says working with wheelchair tennis
athletes has changed his whole outlook.
“I used to be the head pro, and
I was working a lot of hours and starting to get burned out on the court,” Heim
reflected. “It felt like, to me, I was going through the motions.”
Things changed when he
started working with wheelchair tennis players.
“I see the game in a whole
different way, and it makes me appreciate tennis more,” Heim added.
Heim even got in a wheelchair
to figure out what kinds of obstacles players face when they’re playing tennis.
“It challenges me in
different coaching ways,” he said.
Heim and Graham are working
toward their goal of the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. If they can raise enough
money, and if Graham qualifies, nothing will hold them back.
Haith, also a graduate of
SCC, remembers when he could beat Graham at tennis. Those days are over, he
said, and he’s not surprised Graham has become so good so fast.
“He has all the potential in
the world,” Haith said. “He puts in the work and the effort. He can knock down
any obstacle in front of him. That’s rare.”