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Getting back to normal

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Taylor Hunt returns to Colorado as a success in the pool four years after a horrific accident nearly curtailed her career

By Michael Hicks

  LAKEWOOD — It’s Thursday night and Taylor Hunt repetitiously swims back and forth in Lane 5 at the Carmody Recreation Center. That in itself isn’t all that surprising. The Columbine High School senior started swimming when she was 6.

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It also shouldn’t be too shocking considering the 17-year-old practices nine times a week, including three morning sessions from 5-6:30 a.m. for the Foothills Swim Club and will be adding two to three practices with Columbine High this winter.

But considering four years ago, on a wintery December morning, Taylor, then 13, was hit from behind by a car on her way to a school bus stop she’s fortunate to be swimming at all. Doctors initially told her that her swimming career was over. That, however, was not an acceptable answer for Taylor.

Taylor doesn’t remember much about her past, her mother passed away more than a decade ago, and the day of Dec. 12, 2008 — the day she was struck — is a blur.

“I remember little things that seem insignificant compared to things like my mom. I just don’t remember it,” Taylor said. “And I remember my way around town, which is kind of handy now.”

What Taylor does remember from that day is walking through the snow toward a school bus stop to take her to Ken Caryl Middle School. She remembers not being in a good mood and not wanting to go to school. Then she was blindsided.

The next thing she recalls was getting up despite a pair of broken tibias and fibulas, torn cartilages in both knees and a concussion that left it hard for her to see.

“I remember after getting up walking to one of the houses up the street, contemplating if I should go ask for help or just walk home,” Taylor said. “Nothing was making sense.”

Then she passed out in a neighbor’s driveway. People living at the home picked her up and placed her in the back of their car, driving her to the nearest emergency care facility. They took Taylor’s phone out of her back pocket and called her father, Brian Hunt, to alert him of the situation.

“I remember him saying as he was put on speaker phone is she all right? (They) said no. I remember hearing my dad crying and freaking out,” Taylor said.

 

TROUBLESOME KNEES

She’s had three major knee surgeries since the accident and has injections in both knees every six months. Eventually, she’ll need knee replacement surgery. Yet, through all of that, Taylor has overcome the odds.

Her father has seen first-hand Taylor’s perseverance. He recalls her first trip to the state championships just months after her injuries. Taylor reached the finals of the 200 freestyle when one of her knees locked up. She was barely able to swim to the end of the pool and finish the race. She placed eighth.

Twenty minutes later, with a knee swollen to the size of a grapefruit, Brian said, Taylor was to swim the breaststroke portion of her team’s individual medley relay. One of her coaches didn’t want her to compete, though Taylor was determined to do so even if it meant having a teammate help her up to the starting block. Someway, somehow, she got into the pool and helped her team win a state title.

“That’s the kind of girl she is. She’s gone through so much,” Brian said.

And that was just the beginning of her comeback story.

Along with her father and brother, Taylor moved to Arkansas to be closer to her dad’s side of the family, as well as receive additional medical treatment for her injuries. But swimming wasn’t far from her mind.

 

MAKING A STATE-MENT

She swam for Northwest Arkansas Aquatics, as well as for first Fayetteville High School and later perennial state power Bentonville High. In her three years in Arkansas, she became a three-time all-state swimmer. Taylor helped Bentonville win back-to-back state titles in 2011 and ’12, which included the 4x200 freestyle relay team setting a state mark of 1 minute, 40.72 seconds earlier this year. That’s not to mention numerous second-place finishes, all-conference honors and being a team captain. Not too shabby for someone with two wrecked knees and a traumatic brain injury just years earlier.

From the passing of her mother to watching her younger brother, Austin, suffer through two bacterial bone infections just months prior to her accident, life has hit Taylor and her family hard. Yet, with swimming, she continues moving forward.

“Taylor getting hit by a car is only half of what she has gone through, but she keeps her head on straight,” Brian said.

Now with a reconnection to her mom’s side of the family to a better job opportunity for her dad and colleges, particularly in Colorado, eying her, a move back home seemed to make sense.

Taylor feels accepted by her reacquainted surroundings, but there are times when it’s hard to get into a groove. She talks to people in class, but she doesn’t have that strong connection with them yet. She doesn’t hang out with them a lot. That’s understandable considering she just spent the previous three years of high school in Arkansas. But when she’s at the pool she’s more in her own environment.

“My teammates here are awesome. They definitely make me feel welcomed. We have a blast here at practice,” Taylor said. “I don’t remember any of the kids that I grew up with. That’s hard for me to deal with. All of my memories are with my friends in Arkansas. The fact that it’s my senior year I miss being the captain of my high school team. I miss all of my friends out there. But coming here and swimming with this team definitely makes it better.”

 

ON THE RADAR

And the competitive nature of Colorado swimming could be the opening she needs to take that next step. Colleges here already had Taylor on their radar before she relocated. Since she came back in August, Taylor has taken a visit to Colorado State and spoken to coaches at Northern Colorado and Western State, not to mention nationally with Pepperdine among others.

“I’m looking forward, hopefully, to competing at the collegiate level. That’s my goal. That’s my inspiration to keep going. I want to be on the collegiate level,” Taylor said.

Rest assured, though, as life has shown, Taylor Hunt is taking nothing for granted. Everything she’s gotten she’s had to scrap for, her father, Brian, said. Nothing has been handed to her. But, truthfully, she wouldn’t want it any other way.