NYSSA — As Nyssa alumna Taylor Talbot prepared to leave the U.S. to compete in international competition in Nottwil, Switzerland, she had one more thought.
“I hope I can inspire others to just go after their dreams and not let anything bring them down.”
On Saturday, Talbot boarded a plane en route to Switzerland, where she will represent the United States in international competition at the 2019 US Paralympic Track and Field World Jr. Championships. She is legally blind.
Talbot has Retinitis pigmentosa, which describes a group of genetic disorders. In Talbot’s case, all of her rod cells and some of her cone cells in her retinas have been affected. Rods are used in peripheral vision and are also more sensitive to light, and are responsible for helping with night vision. Cones are able to detect different wavelengths of light and are responsible for color vision.
“I don’t have any peripheral or night vision, so it’s basically like looking through a drinking straw,” she said. Talbot said she currently has about a 10 percent visual field. In terms of distance, her left eye is better at seeing than her right eye.
Talbot’s mother, Stacie, said the family started to notice she wasn’t seeing well when she was a toddler.
“She got a little more mobile at two,” Stacie said. “But it took us until she was eight to figure out what it was. It’s really hard to test kids and eight’s when she was diagnosed as legally blind.”
Talbot looked like she had a lazy eye, Stacie said. They went to an ophthalmologist in Boise, who dilated her pupils in order to get a good look at the back of her eyes.
“Everything just changed,” Stacie said. “[The doctor said] I don’t know what this is. You’re going to have to see another doctor. So we just went from specialist to specialist. We were in three states. We were in Idaho, Utah and then eventually ended up at [Oregon Health & Science University]. Nobody knew what it was. They still don’t technically know what it is.”
Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of sight-related disorders, it isn’t a disease by itself.
“So that’s technically not my official diagnosis,” Talbot said.
Stacie said that Talbot has been going to doctors for her whole life to get tested.
“They’re trying to figure out what it is, exactly,” she said.
Never going to stop her
Talbot was named a U.S. Paralympic High-School All American in 2017 and 2018. She will be competing in one of the biggest Paralympic sporting events of the year. The Junior Worlds will be a pipeline for athletes who want to compete in the Paralympic Games (like Tokyo in 2020, Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028).
Talbot will be competing in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter race.
While she’s excited to compete, Talbot said she’s a little nervous about the trip.
“It’s pretty exciting, but it’s going to be my first trip out of the country,” Talbot said. “So it’s my first international meet out of the country, and it’s my first time just going out of the country. And it’s going to be my longest trip away from home, so it’s all new stuff.”
But when it comes to competing on the track, that’s when Talbot is in her element.
“It’s been my whole life,” she said.
She was first introduced to track and field by running in the Hershey Track and Field meets at Ontario High School.
“I came and did those ever since I could walk,” she said. “I’ve been doing it forever.”
And ever since then, Talbot has found her home.
“When I’m on the track, I’m not too different from other people,” she said. “I can connect with them better. When I’m in a classroom or I’m inside and I have to use magnifiers and things like that, and things that other people don’t usually see every day and that they’re not used to, that’s kind of hard for me to talk to them and connect with them because I’m so different. But when I get on the track, I can do the same things that they’re doing. I can communicate better and connect with them.”
How does she do it?
Due to her sight impairment, Talbot has to be extra cautious about where she is running.
“I usually use my left eye to run, because when I’m in my lane, since my left eye is my good eye, I can see [the left line]. And so that’s how I run, by using the inside line.”
When it comes to some of Talbot’s other events, including long jump, there’s another level of difficulty due to her sight impairment.
“[To set up] I count my steps back from the board, so I’ll go seven rights and then I’ll put my mark down,” Talbot said. “Then I start at my mark and I’ll run seven steps on my right foot. On my seventh one, that’s when I take off.”
Talbot’s procedure for long jump isn’t too different from everybody else. Long jump, like most of the jumping events in track and field, is a lot about taking the right number of steps. But when it comes to actually competing in the long jump, Talbot’s unable to see the runway.
“I have to be kind of careful, because I do long jump differently then how I run on the track,” she said. “You’re not supposed to look down when you long jump, you’re supposed to look up. And I don’t have any sight [below my head]. So I just basically have to practice running straight. So I don’t see anything when I long jump. I can see the color of the sky, then I count my steps and then I jump.”
Talbot also competed in the girls 4x100-meter relay. She said she often has people ask her how she can possibly compete in the event.
“It’s all memory,” Talbot said, laughing. “It’s a memorization thing.”
Talbot credits the old Hershey Track and Field meets with helping her get some of the motions down when she was younger.
“I did it when I was young, and I had better sight then. So it’s just worked into my muscle memory. So when I got into high school and I did the relay, people were like, ‘What the heck? She can barely see.’ But I was doing it because I’ve done it so many times.”
This past spring, Talbot was the last wildcard qualifier selected for the 3A State Tournament for the long jump. Despite being the last-ranked athlete in the long jump, Talbot upset the competition and took sixth place at the state tournament.
After the event, one of Talbot’s competitors messaged her on Instagram. Talbot said the girl wrote saying that her mother went blind and she has been in the home caring for her mother and she was inspired by seeing Talbot compete at the state tournament.
“She admired her and wanted to say how brave she was,” Stacie said.
Talbot graduated from Nyssa High School in May, and was one of the graduating class’ valedictorians. She will attend Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg in the fall.
There aren’t any varsity sports offered at BYU-Idaho, but Talbot said she will definitely be competing in intramural sports.
She will be studying music.