Nick Taylor, left, and David Wagner celebrate a third consecutive team win at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Ever since men’s quad doubles event was added to the wheelchair tennis Paralympic program in 2004, there have been only two men who have captured gold in the event: Americans Nick Taylor and David Wagner.
Over a span of eight years, Taylor and Wagner have won three Paralympic gold medals in that event, including the most recent Paralympic Games held in London. For their achievements in the sport, the U.S. Olympic Committee named Taylor and Wagner the Paralympic Team of the Year.
Even with those achievements, the award came as a surprise.
“It came as a total shock to me,” said Wagner, a five-time Paralympic medalist. “I’m honored and feel privileged to say that we were able to be recognized for the hard work we put in and what we were able to accomplish.”
“It’s a huge honor for us,” Taylor added. “Obviously we had a great run at the Paralympics, really for the last three Paralympics. I’m also proud not only (for) what it means to David and I, but to wheelchair tennis, and for that matter, even tennis. To be recognized by the USOC is awesome.”
In addition to their gold medal in doubles, Wagner took home a silver medal in the quad singles event and Taylor claimed the bronze.
Since becoming teammates in 2003, Taylor and Wagner have dominated men’s quad doubles competition. They have won seven Grand Slam titles, including the 2011 U.S. Open. They helped the United States win its seventh World Team Cup championship in May.
“David Wagner and Nick Taylor have been the foundation of American wheelchair tennis for years,” said Dan James, the USTA’s wheelchair tennis manager and U.S. Paralympics tennis coach.
In London, they won the gold medal by defeating hometown country favorites Andrew Lapthorne and Peter Norfolk of Great Britain, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. The crowd at Eton Manor cheered loudly for the British tennis players, while a few dozen family members and friends pulled for Wagner and Taylor.
“We had maybe 40 of us total Americans against the other 5,000 British fans,” Wagner said. “It was really cool. It was like a Davis Cup atmosphere. It really was just rowdy, wild. It was really, really good.”
That memorable day of Sept. 5 was a long way from Kansas, Taylor’s home, and the vision of a 4-year-old watching the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games on television and dreaming of competing in the Olympic Games and announcing it to his parents.
“For a disabled kid to say that,” he said, “it was probably hard for them to hear because it’s … well, I don’t know how that’s going to work.”
Yet magically, it did. Born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disease that restricts muscular development and affects joints in the body, Taylor played tennis for his high school team.
“I was playing on my high school tennis team because I wanted to play high school sports,” he said. “I was playing able-bodied kids.”
When Randy Snow, a three-time Paralympian and a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame who passed away unexpectedly in 2009, put on a wheelchair tennis clinic in Wichita, Kan., it helped to open up a new world for Taylor. Snow had earned a silver medal in an exhibition 1,500-meter wheelchair race in the Los Angeles Olympic Games that Taylor watched on TV.
“I can assure you that was the first and last time that, other than me living here, that a top wheelchair tennis player has ever been to Wichita, Kan.,” Taylor said. “I think about that. If he had not shown up, would any of this (have) ever happened?”
Now, Taylor is the big star around Wichita. Dining out recently, people sitting at adjacent tables recognized him. Taylor is an assistant coach for the men’s tennis team at Wichita State University and is vice president of Wichita-based Wheelchair Sports Inc. (wsi.wcsports.org), a non-profit organization that promotes adaptive sports and recreation. Its camps and tournaments draw registrations from all over the country. Fundraising activities include an annual floor hockey game with the Wichita Thunder, a minor-league hockey team.
“We provide athletic opportunities for all ages for people with physical disabilities,” Taylor said.
“I try to do the same thing,” added Taylor, who completed his master’s degree in sports administration from WSU in 2007. “I try to get the word out there. The great thing is now in the social media age and the internet, things like that, Paralympics is getting so much more coverage than it ever did before. More and more people are finding out about it.”
While Taylor has returned to Kansas, Wagner, a native Californian who turned to quad tennis following an accident in the surf near Redondo Beach, Calif. in 1995, heads back on the tennis tour. He has been ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Tennis Federation in both singles and doubles, and he won silver in singles at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. His 20 tournaments a year include the U.S. Open and Australian Open, both Grand Slam events.
“You never know what’s going to happen in your life,” Wagner said. “You never would have thought 17 years ago when I became disabled that this is where it would have been. It’s just such an honor to be a part of something so great and wonderful.
“The best part,” he added with an excited jump in his voice, “is that it’s not done yet.”