Nick Taylor has made a career out of tennis in spite of a disability that is far more severe than just about anyone else on the professional wheelchair circuit.
He makes a living as director of operations for the Wichita State University tennis program, and the money he picks up on the pro wheelchair circuit is just extra.
Taylor will be in Rome this week for the International Tennis Federation Georgia Open, played at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, March 11-15.
Taylor was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that he says makes him substantially more disabled than anyone else in his division.
“Essentially I have no biceps. I have a tiny bit of tricep and I do not have the muscles to open my hands,” Taylor said. “I can close my hands, so I’m able to hold on to the racket, but it’s not full grip strength and I lose the racket a lot.”
In spite of the physical odds, Taylor is a five-time Paralympic medalist, winning gold medals at the 2004, 2008 and 20012 games. He won a silver medal in 2016.
“Newton’s Law says for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. That’s basically me,” he said. “Because I can only go one direction with most movements, most of the time, for me to do something in one direction I’ve got to do it in the opposite direction first and then use that momentum to come back the other way.”
Taylor can’t explain how he has managed to play tennis.
“I’m just a giant physics experiment,” he said.
Unlike most competitors, Taylor plays in a powered wheelchair.
“Maneuvering the chair is definitely difficult for me. If you were to put it in a high mode, you would do a wheelie and then drive it into whatever wall was the closest thing to you,” Taylor said.
He says guys in the manual chairs are like driving a Porsche in terms of their maneuverability.
“I’m riding a semi-truck,” Taylor said. “They most certainly can stop and make a turn going back in the opposite direction in a quarter of the time I can.”
His condition doesn’t allow him to raise the racket above his head, and he can’t toss the ball for a serve.
“I actually set the ball on my foot and flip it up and hit it to serve,” he said. “I don’t even know, from a technical standpoint, what would be my forehand or my backhand.”
Taylor teamed with David Wagner to win the doubles championship at the Georgia Open last year, defeating Australian Heath Davidson and Koji Sugeno of Japan in the finals.