Last winter, Elana Meyers Taylor was the best bobsled pilot in the world. This winter, she has only finished on the podium once and has missed two world cups.
So what’s going on with the 31-year-old bobsledder, who won an Olympic silver medal in Sochi?
It all stems from a crash almost exactly a year ago.
|Elana Meyers poses for a portrait ahead of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.|
On Jan. 16, 2015 in Koenigssee, Germany, in the fourth world cup of the 2014-15 season, Meyers Taylor and brakewoman Cherrelle Garrett were leading after the first run. Undefeated in women's racing on the world cup circuit to that point, the duo looked like it would keep its winning streak going.
But then, near the bottom of the track on their second run, they crashed, yet popped back up and were able to finish. Both women looked stunned as they exited their sled.
Diagnosed with a concussion, Meyers Taylor was cleared to race again the following week.
All seemed well, especially after she rekindled the winning streak in the final three world cups. She ended the season with her first world championship title, also the first for a U.S. woman.
But all was not well. Concussion symptoms such as headaches and fatigue were decreasing, but were still present. She would only slide a few times each week, then race.
“It was really tough for the both of us,” said Garrett. “We worked together, we kept our confidence going, we really just made it happen.”
By the end of the world championships, Meyers Taylor was falling apart.
“When it came to world championships, with the stress of the event and hype and with dealing with (a concussion) all season, I really started to break down,” she said by phone from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she was undergoing thorough testing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before she resumes sliding. “I was starting to get headaches again, started having some light and noise sensitivity problems, balance issues, memory issues, concentration issues, the whole gamut – you name it, I had it.”
After the season ended, she rested and again was improving. Over the summer, she worked in an internship in the International Olympic Committee’s finance department. Great, she thought, she will be off her feet.
But staring at a computer did not help her head.
“It was absolutely the worst thing I could have done,” she said. “I was looking at that bright screen all day long, eight, nine hours a day, every single day. I had the worst headaches ever. It was really bad.”
She returned home to Atlanta in July and began treatment at the Cerebrum Health Center, which skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender recommended. Uhlaender has suffered a handful of concussions throughout her career.
Cleared again to train, Meyers Taylor joined the team for early-season sliding in October. But she soon noticed that her reaction time was slightly off. And she was really tired.
“We thought it was getting back into sliding,” she rationalized. “It had been a long summer. This was just the process of getting back into sliding. But it kept getting worse and worse.”
Her teammates noticed that something was off, too.
“She kind of kept to herself,” said Garrett. “Elana is super funny, so I know when she’s not herself. She’s not cracking a joke or watching “Frozen” and eating Milka chocolates. I knew something was different. But I was there for her.”
Still, Meyers Taylor was at the start of the first world cup in Altenberg, Germany — “the worst track in the world to have your reaction time slightly off,” she explained.
Meyers Taylor and Garrett finished eighth. Worse, she took another hit to her head during the race, and the headaches and nausea returned. Again, the symptoms subsided that week and she was cleared to race in the Winterberg World Cup in early December.
She and brakewoman Kehri Jones managed to finish second in the Winterberg World Cup — behind teammates Jamie Greubel Poser and Garrett. But Meyers Taylor knew that she needed more treatment. She pulled out of the Koenigssee World Cup before the holidays and returned to Cerebrum in Atlanta.
At Cerebrum, she worked on balance, reaction time and visual exercises to get her eyes tracking correctly and ease the headaches.
“What would happen is my right eye wouldn’t be seeing a clear image, which is the worst thing for a bobsled driver, as you can imagine,” she explained.
She also learned to mitigate other stresses in her life, improve nutrition and sleep better. As her symptoms worsened, she was waking up several times each night. But sleep is crucial to recovering from a brain injury.
Finally feeling like herself again, Meyers Taylor is competing in two IBSF Europe Cup races — in Igls, Austria, this coming weekend, then St. Moritz, Switzerland, later in January — before rejoining the IBSF World Cup tour in St. Moritz in early February.
She and brakewomen Jones and Terra Evans will join Katie Eberling and Justin Olsen — two former push athletes turned bobsled pilots.
“Taking a step down (to the Europe Cup) will be an adjustment,” said Meyers Taylor. “But I think it will be good to be around two pilots who are really excited about life.”
Mostly, she is excited to feel like herself again.
“When head injuries happen, it changes who you are,” she said. “For the past year, it changed who I was emotionally. I wasn’t the same person. I told my husband Nic, I’m funny again, I feel like myself again. That’s a whole year of not feeling like yourself.”
She’s thankful for the therapists at Cerebrum, Uhlaender for encouraging her through the process, the USOC, and for her entire support team.
“I’m in a much better spot now,” Meyers Taylor concluded. “I’m optimistic about the weeks to come. We’ll see where it goes. I’m still not out of it. I’ll go for another world championship (in late February) and give it all I’ve got.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.