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Go For The Gold: Taylor Lipsett

Go For The Gold

BY BRAD BOTKIN I JUNE 25, 2013

Taylor Lipsett celebrates his third period goal against Japan during
the sled hockey gold-medal game of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic
Winter Games on March 20, 2010 in Vancouver, B.C.

You’re at the office and a meeting runs late, and you’re exhausted. It’s been a long week, so you’re not going to make it to the gym today. You’ll go tomorrow. Or the next day. But then you look up and you haven’t been to the gym in a year. Come to think of it, you never went back for that Masters degree either. And you never finished that novel you were writing.

It’s the story of our lives. Never enough time. Always an excuse. A recipe for regret.

But Taylor Lipsett, a left wing on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, lives another way. He knows no compromise. No concession. A Paralympic gold medalist, a family man, a full-time grad student, and a 50-hour-a-week Bank of America portfolio manager, Lipsett squeezes the nectar from every day as if it were truly his last. And you envy him for it.

During a given training week, Lipsett will begin his conditioning program, a CrossFit curriculum composed mostly of rowing and skating exercises, at 5 a.m. After a quick shower and some breakfast, he’s off to the bank from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., only to return to the gym for an evening weight session from 5 to 7 p.m. In addition, he also spends two days a week taking night classes at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he’s pursuing his MBA with an emphasis in investment management. Throw in a few more online classes, homework, on-ice practice, and some much-needed time with his wife, Kathleen, and even he will admit that things can start to get pretty hectic.

“It does wear on you, no doubt,” he said. “Year after year, it can get pretty hard sometimes. It would be impossible without my wife. This July is our four-year wedding anniversary, but we’ve been together eight or nine years, and she’s always supported me 100 percent."

In fact, it was Kathleen who talked Taylor out of retiring after the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver. He had just helped lead the U.S. to the gold medal, and he thought he was finally ready to hang it up. The schedule was brutal, and the rest of his life was calling. But you see, no country has ever won back-to-back gold medals in sled hockey, and after all the work and sacrifice over the past decade plus, Kathleen just couldn’t let Taylor miss out on a chance to make history.

“Either that,” he laughed, “or she was just worried I’d be home all the time bugging her."

Taylor Lipsett explores Gyeongbokgung Palace prior to the 2013
IPC Sledge Hockey World Championships in April 2013.

It’s a typical Lipsett response. Loose. Humble. Self-deprecating. Until you ask him, he doesn’t tell you that he was Team USA’s leading goal scorer at the 2010 Paralympic Games, or that at the 2012 world championships he led the whole tournament in both goals and points and notched a hat trick in the gold-medal game. He’d rather talk about the team. He’d rather talk about Declan Farmer, the 15-year-old phenom who posted four goals and four assists at the 2013 world championships in Korea.

“He’s probably the most talented player I’ve ever seen,” Lipsett said of Farmer. “He’s got nerves of steel. And the scariest part is he’s still developing into his body. He still has so much room to grow as a player. I’m certainly glad he’s on my team and not the other side."

Indeed, the 15-year-old Farmer represents one of the biggest advantages Team USA will carry into Sochi: youth. For the last four years they’ve been the youngest team in the world, their most elderly player just 30 years old, which is the average age for teams like Japan and Norway. Even better, that youth doesn’t come at the expense of experience. Lipsett is just 26 years old, yet he’s going on his third Games. Like many of his teammates, he’s been at this since he was a teenager.

Diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder sometimes known as “brittle bone disease,” Lipsett knew nothing of sled hockey until he bumped into Lonnie Hannah’s mother in the grocery store when he was fifteen. Hannah had just won a gold medal with the 2002 U.S. team in Salt Lake City, and his mom thought Lipsett might like to talk to him about possibly getting involved.

“So she gave me Lonnie’s contact information, and I got in touch with him,” Lipsett said. “I found out there was a local team in Dallas. At first I was hesitant, but then I got out there and it was awesome. It was a different feeling than anything I’d ever felt. It really gave me something to strive for."

Taylor Lipsett celebrates Team USA's 2-0 win over Japan during the
sled hockey gold-medal game of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic
Winter Games on March 20, 2010 in Vancouver, B.C.

And so it began, as shortly thereafter Lipsett was in his high school principal’s office carving out a plan that would allow him to balance his school with his newfound passion. Arrangements were made, and in 2004 a last-minute spot opened up on the national team.

“Again, Lonnie Hannah paved the way for me,” he said. “I’d been working really hard on my game and working my way up the ranks, and Lonnie recommended me as a player who could step right in and help. And I’ve been playing with the team ever since."

As Sochi approaches, Lipsett says he wants this gold medal even more than he wanted the first one. He says the team is playing with a chip on its shoulder after finishing second to Canada in the 2013 world championships. They want to make history. They want to validate their back-to-back world championships in 2009 and 2012 with back-to-back Paralympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. They want to challenge Canada for hockey supremacy. They want it all.

And if they get it, perhaps then Lipsett can finally relax a little. Maybe then he’ll do what he planned to do after Vancouver and retire.

And if he does, he won’t have to look far for someone to get his portfolio in line.