MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Gabby Taylor of two-and-a-half years ago was strong, determined and competitive.
She was captain of the undefeated East Ridge competitive cheerleading squad. And as they began practice on Dec. 17, 2009, Taylor had no idea a freak accident was about to change her life.
“We were doing a stunt,” she said. “We did it three times. The final time was the last time I had full motion in my right arm.”
A teammate landed on Taylor’s neck, causing instant and intense pain. Taylor then lost feeling in her right arm.
“My arm looked like a balloon,” she said. “It was purple and swollen with red splotches. You knew something was wrong.”
But it took several doctors to figure out she had severe nerve damage. She’s gone through two spinal surgeries, and the last one put her in a coma.
Taylor missed most of her sophomore year, became depressed, and the injury compromised her immune system.
The 18-year-old now gets sick very easily and can spend up to a week in the hospital at a time. Worst of all, she can no longer do what she loves.
“I had to watch them at nationals in a wheelchair, from the sidelines as captain,” she said. “That was very hard to watch. I was cheering for them more than I ever had, but I had tears streaming down my face.”
But there is a silver lining. Taylor now has a new purpose. She was recently crowned Miss Teen Minnesota, and in July she’ll compete against 60 other girls from around world for the title of Miss Teen International.
Behind the tiara and the sash comes a powerful message.
“Giving people hope,” said her mom, Robin Taylor. “And I think that’s the biggest thing. So, of course, my husband and I, her dad, are super proud of her.”
Since she can no longer play sports, Taylor speaks to other students about sports safety, and educates coaches and parents about how they can protect athletes. She even met with Jack Jablonski, the paralyzed Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey player, this winter.
Two-and-a-half years after her injury, some feeling has returned in her fingers, but not much.
She can’t drive, missed her senior prom, and is rushing to graduate on time. But even though she’s lost strength, she’s gained will power.
And her mission is to keep other student-athletes from suffering a similar fate.
“I went from being this 3.9 GPA all-star athlete to bed-ridden at 15,” she said. “You can’t win if you are on the bench. You can’t win if you are in ER. You can’t win if you are bed-ridden. My message is to be safe and take care of yourself.”