Teen turns injury into advocacy
Gabby Taylor competes in Miss Teen Minnesota
By HANNAH JOHNSON – Stillwater Gazette
It’s been two years since Gabby Taylor felt anything in her right arm.
Taylor, a senior of Stillwater Area High School, lost all feeling in her right arm after a cheerleading accident in 2009. After extensive physical therapies and surgeries, she is now able to wiggle her fingers. She also has hope of one day regaining most feeling in her right arm.
“I’m able to move my fingers a little now and that’s been two years of extensive therapy,” Taylor said.
Taylor is using her experience to help raise awareness on the vast amount of sports injuries across the state as well as educate students on the best preventative measures to help avoid going through a life-changing sports injury.
The Stillwater resident was recently named Miss Teen Stillwater and will be competing against 23 girls in the Miss Teen Minnesota International Pageant this weekend in St. Cloud, Minn. Her platform? Sports Safety Education and Awareness.
Since her injury, Taylor has used pageants as a way to reach out to the broader community about sports safety education to help prevent similar injuries.
“My platform is relatable. It’s a real issue in Minnesota along with our nation,” Taylor said. “It’s not just a platform I picked out of a hat. My platform is my life.”
The day of her injury Taylor was practicing a routine cheerleading routine. The group was practicing a difficult stunt when a fellow teammate landed on Taylor’s shoulder multiple times. The popular sports mantra “No pain, no gain” came to mind and Taylor ignored the searing pain through the right side of her neck and shoulder.
After her teammate fell on her neck for a third time Taylor realized she couldn’t move her right arm. It was paralyzed.
A pain specialist diagnosed Taylor with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in addition to having significant nerve damage. Since her diagnosis she has undergone multiple different treatment plans, surgeries and physical therapy. Doctors believe Taylor will eventually receive feeling below her elbow, but there is uncertainty how much feeling she will ever regain above her elbow.
As a right-handed girl, Taylor had to re-learn everything from buttoning a shirt, zipper her pants, curling her hair and applying makeup to doing homework or opening food packages with her left hand.
Though Taylor has been busy rehabilitating her arm and trying to keep on track to graduate from high school, she has used her injury as an opportunity to bring attention to the reality of life-altering injuries through extra-curricular sports.
Her focus has been to re-educate students and coaches on how to play sports safely. She has been working hard to research various sports’ rules and regulations while advocating for high safety standards. She speaks to students about the importance of listening to your body’s pain signals and speaks to coaches about pursuing proper certification and safety seminars to help ensure players’ good health.
This upcoming Miss Teen Minnesota competition is not Taylor’s first attempt to win the pageant. Before Taylor moved to Stillwater a year ago she was Miss Teen Woodbury and was the first runner-up in last year’s Miss Teen Minnesota International Pageant. She was also the Miss Congeniality winner and the Cover Model with Style winner.
Most recently, Taylor has been working with the National Center for Sports Safety to become trained as a speaker and advocate. As a result, Taylor was featured in the 2011 National Center for Sports Safety Annual Report. She was the only teenage athlete featured.
After coming so close to winning the Miss Teen Minnesota pageant last year, Taylor wasn’t sure she would compete again this year. That changed after Jack Jablonski.
“I heard about Jack’s accident and it really hit home,” Taylor said. “I was like I need to do this (pageant) again with everything unfolding in Minnesota with sports injuries.”
Taylor met with Jablonski for the first time on Sunday. The two were able to share their similar experiences as well as their shared passion for sports safety.
“It was an emotional day and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Taylor said. “He’s definitely a tough cookie and I’m proud of all the work he is doing with hockey safety.”
Part of Taylor’s mission is to join forces with athletes across the state to work together on the same mission. Taylor is calling it her team of All-Star Athletes.
“I’m hoping that down the road we can team up on sports safety together,” Taylor said of Jablonski. “The more you have working together, the better.”
Regardless of the results from this weekend’s competition, Taylor said her platform doesn’t end with the competition. After graduating high school Taylor hopes to make a career out of sports safety education and advocacy.
“It’s coming straight from my heart because when I wake up and go to bed I experience (my injury) every day,” Taylor said. “I feel I could do great things with the crown … but even if I don’t win, I won’t stop.”
For more information on Taylor’s story visit www.gabbytaylor.com