Taylor Talbot soars in the long jump event at the 2019 Arizona Desert Challenge Games held in May. Her performance at the competition for youth and adult athletes with physical, visual or intellectual disability landed her a spot to compete at the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Minnesota this month. (Submitted photo)

NYSSA – Blindness has not stopped Nyssa’s Taylor Talbot from edging closer to her dream of participating in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, as she recently beat hundreds of athletes for a spot to compete in July at the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Minnesota.

Last month, the Nyssa High School graduate posted new personal bests in the 100-meter with 13.77 seconds, the 200-meter with 28.29 seconds and the long jump with 15 feet and 2.25 inches.

Her next step on the track is her ultimate goal.

“I’d like to go to Tokyo in 2020 and represent our country and the people I love,” Talbot said. “I think I can make it if I keep working hard.”

Talbot is not too far from realizing her dream. Among athletes with visual impairment, she is ranked fourth in the world in the 200-meter dash and ninth in the world in the 100-meter.

At nationals, she’ll have a chance to be selected for the World Para Athletics Junior Championships taking place in Switzerland in August.

For Talbot, track and field truly runs in her family.

Her parents, Ron and Stacie Talbot, were both track and field stars and met through the sport.

“My parents ran track and they met in college on the track team,” Talbot said. “I’ve been doing track since I could walk. I competed in it in elementary, middle and high school.”

Her mother, Stacie, said her husband’s family has a line of track records.

“The Talbots hold a lot of records in Nyssa,” she said. “If you look at the school records at the high school gym, you’ll see several Talbots on the wall.”

The teen said she was only 4 when she started competing in track and field. Her very first race was the 50-yard dash, and her first jumping event was the standing long jump.

As Talbot grew, she would run faster and jump further, even though her vision grew worse.

“She didn’t start to lose her vision until she was 8 years old,” Stacie Talbot said.

Despite the odds, Talbot continued to work hard and stay determined.

At the age of 9, Talbot went to her first national competition for the standing long jump. At 12, she started breaking local records in sprint races and long jump events.

Talbot also found ways to deal with the lack of visual cues on the track during a race.

“When I run, I only have 10% visual. When I’m on the block, I’ve got my head down. I can only see the color of the track and can’t see the lines. I can only hear and feel things -- it’s like having tunnel vision,” Talbot said. “I don’t think I ever see the finish line in a race. Most of the time I just feel it – there’s like the corner of the finish line, or sometimes I hear it when the crowd cheers and gets loud.”

As for the long jump, Talbot said it’s trickier. She has to calibrate herself by counting her steps to know when to go for the jump.

“For the long jump, I already have my steps measured. I have to figure out my mark on the runway, so I make sure I’m right in the middle,” Talbot said. “I run down the runway and count my steps and jump. Honestly, I can’t see the board either. All I can see is the color of the sky, so I’ll take seven strides. Sometimes I’m right on or way behind.”

Talbot said she typically gets six jumps and the judges take the best one.

In 2017, the Oregon School Activities Association named Talbot a Paralympic All-American athlete. The honor got her noticed by Joaquim Cruz, a 1984 Olympic champion and U.S. para track and field.

Cruz, who’s based in southern California, invited Talbot to compete in the 2018 Mt. Sac relays, an elite annual track and field festival, where she placed seventh in the 200-meter dash and fourth in the 100-meter dash. Since then, Cruz has been coaching Talbot through email, Skype and phone calls.

Aside from Cruz, Talbot said she looks up to fellow paralympian runner Kym Crosby, 26, of California.

“I would say Kym is one of my mentors. We know each other really well and talk quite frequently,” Talbot said. “She’s legally blind like me and she understands what it’s like. She really helped me at the Mt. Sac relays. We talk to each other quite often, and she’s someone I can talk to about my fears or when I’m feeling insecure.”

Talbot said one of her biggest challenges is facing her insecurity, especially in competitions with able-bodied athletes. But getting through those fears also brings her the most rewarding experiences.

“The greatest moment so far has probably been at the state track meet this year. I was able to jump 15-4, which was a new PR for me and I got sixth place. It just took a lot to get to that point,” Talbot said. “I couldn’t see my jumps like everyone else, so my first couple of jumps were so off. It was really easy to compare myself to other girls who were able-bodied because I knew they have a big advantage over me. But I got back up there and with my third jump during prelims is when I got that 15-4. That, despite being different from other people, I know that I can accomplish great things.”

Talbot said having to overcome challenges, whether physical or mental, has made her a better athlete and a more confident person. She is also grateful for having a caring and supportive family.

“I think having this challenge gives me a reason for being here. Like, I’m here for a reason, and that reason is to help other disabled athletes to believe in themselves,” Talbot said. “I can show other athletes like me that I can decide to see how to look at things, and work toward that. If you work really hard and believe in yourself, you can overcome so much and go on to do great things.”

Reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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