PHOTOS: Paralympian track runner from Ontario headed to Tokyo

Taylor Talbot began losing her sight at 2 years old and was legally blind by 8. Now 20, she has lost all sight in her right eye and only has about 5% tunnel vision in her left. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

ONTARIO – Taylor Talbot is a sister, daughter, multi-instrument musician and equestrian. She is also a near-blind track and field runner headed to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympics.

“That’s what the Paralympics is about. You see all these amazing athletes and they’re struggling with all these challenges that they’re overcoming through the sport of track and field. It’s pretty incredible,” Talbot said.

Her journey from her home in Ontario to the Paralympics wasn’t smooth. After traveling to Minneapolis, Minn., on June 17 for qualifications, she found out five days later that she made Team USA.

“I was the very last name announced. My mom called me saying, ‘You made it! You made it!’ They sent out a press release, put it all over social media, it was everywhere,” Talbot said in an interview with her school’s public radio, BYU-Idaho Radio. “I can’t tell you how it felt to have that dream come true.”

The next day, an official with the International Paralympics Committee called Talbot to explain the committee had made a miscalculation, and she was 0.01 percent below the standard needed to qualify. A different Paralympian got her spot on the team.

“The next morning, I got up and ran two miles because there was no way I was going to stop training,” she said.

And it was a good thing she didn’t because she received another call a week later saying she could, in fact, join the team due to how close the scores were. Her training continued.

Talbot completes a Wednesday workout on an exercise ball in her garage. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Every day except Sundays, Talbot completes routines that her coach, Joaquin Cruz, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 800m track event, sends to her via email. She also has a weightlifting coach and a dietician. The routines vary day-to-day and alternate between running and other strength and balance exercises.

Cruz “built me up from the bottom,” Talbot said. “At first, I thought some of the things he told me to do were a waste of time. But look where I am now.”

Talbot works on a core exercise as one of her kittens, Banjo, fancies himself in the mirror. Since the start of Covid, Talbot has trained alone. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

“I wish I could train with other athletes, but it’s gotten easier over time. Plus, I have the cats,” she said, referring to a small litter of kittens that recently appeared in the Talbots’ driveway. Though they often interfere with her home workouts, “it’s hard to be mad at them.”

Talbot puts on her track and field running shoes, or “spikes,” aptly named for the spikes at the bottom that provide sprinters extra grip on the track, before running practice sprints at the Nyssa High School track. These spikes have been through so much – I don’t think I could ever get rid of them,” Talbot said. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Talbot and her mom, Stacie Talbot, analyze Taylor’s running form in the video filmed during her practice 40-meter sprint one morning at the track behind Nyssa High School, Talbot’s alma mater. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Taylor’s parents were both track stars in college, so they were influential in Taylor’s own running career.

In lieu of an in-person coach, Stacie has been working with Taylor every step of the way to achieve Olympic status. That includes driving Taylor to the track, offering running critiques, keeping her on a rigorous schedule, and tracking her progress.

Talbot uses her white cane as her youngest brother, Tyson, 9, watches. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

She has been using a cane since her freshman year in high school, but was hesitant when she first started.

“I didn’t want people to see me as a blind girl, so I was really insecure about it,” Talbot said. But using a cane became necessary as her vision worsened and she moved from a small middle school to the larger Nyssa High School.

“Maneuvering the halls was harder, boards were further away, print was smaller,” Talbot said.

She also learned other tricks to get around, such as echolocation, step counting, and “drafting,” a way of listening to and then following her classmates between classes.

Tyson strums Taylor’s concert ukulele, which she plans to take with her to Tokyo, as her 13-year-old sister Lindsay watches. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Alongside running, Talbot’s music has been a way of finding her identity outside of her sight.

“Music helped me realize it’s okay to be visually impaired and have that not be the only thing about me.”

The Talbot siblings lounge on their front porch at home in Ontario. The oldest of four, Talbot takes pride in her younger siblings and their accomplishments. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

“A lot of people think I just do my workouts and don’t have a life, but that’s just not true,” Talbot said.

The Talbot siblings play volleyball behind their house. An entire family of athletes, Talbot’s siblings each play several sports, from pole vaulting to football to track, which makes it easy for them to support each other’s demanding athletic lifestyles. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Talbot shows her brother Ryan, 17, photos from her week-long trip to Guide Dogs for the Blind Camp in Sandy, Ore. Now that she’s completed the training at the camp, she hopes to have her own guide dog soon. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Talbot plays piano in her home in Ontario as her brother Ryan watches from the kitchen. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Another way of finding herself outside of her sight, she has been an avid piano player since she was 6, despite not being able to see the individual keys. To compensate, she memorizes songs note-by-note and uses muscle memory and clues on distances between the keys to play complex songs.

“It’s funny I like piano because Coach Cruz always says, ‘Track is like classical music. Don’t try too hard,’” Talbot said.

Talbot takes a seat at dinner next to Tyson after watching Norway’s Karsten Warholm shatter his own world record in the 400-meter hurdles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

The Talbot family reacts with a range of emotions as a Team USA runner misses qualifications in a track event by 0.0001 seconds after slowing his pace when he thought he was far in the lead. “Don’t you do that,” her mom, Stacie, said, only half-joking. “Take this as a lesson.” (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

After months of training and preparation, Talbot will leave for Tokyo on Aug. 10 to compete in the T13 visual impairment classification in the 100 meter and 400 meter dashes. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

“Setbacks and challenges are a part of life, whether it’s in sports or music or school. When you come across those obstacles, you have a choice: you can either turn away from them or try to conquer them,” Talbot said.

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