Journey to Glory: Taylor's Hunt
As the Olympics continue, a volleyball player out of Eastern Mennonite University has already represented Team USA this summer. But Hunter Taylor's journey to the world stage was complicated.
As it turned out, volleyball became the guiding light in his hunt to find a purpose.
“My mom said I had very little hearing when I was born. But all the way up to age two, it just got progressively worse,” Taylor said. “I had an implant when I was two and a half.”
Taylor was the first two year old in the world to have an implant for hearing loss under his skin. But that didn't end the challenges he faced. In fact, they were just beginning.
"I was going to public school in Richmond, Henrico County. At first, they thought I was going to have some differences between me and the teachers,” Taylor said. I felt like teachers and coaches from past years, high school, middle school and elementary school, they've always been like, hey, I don't want to work with this kid. He's too much trouble.”
Sports became an escape for Taylor. He focused on volleyball after getting cut from the basketball team when he was 16. But as his talent grew, so did the burden Taylor put on himself.
"I've been playing year-round for the last four years before my freshman year, and I think that the intensity, the everyday life just kinda like drowned me in some ways,” Taylor said. “And I just needed some time off.”
Taylor played just 12 sets of volleyball in his first year at EMU before deciding he needed a break.
“I guess the expectations became disappointment,” Taylor said.
Taylor transferred to Radford where his grades continued to slip. It took the loss of a loved one for him to find his way back to EMU.
His grandfather passed away on December 6, 2015.
“I knew if I played volleyball, it would make me concentrate on school,” Taylor said. “School was the biggest thing. I need to graduate. That's the biggest thing my grandfather wanted."
In his comeback season with the Royals, Taylor played in nine games. Meanwhile, he was preparing for an even bigger stage – the World Deaf Volleyball Championships in Washington, D.C.
“Just to represent the USA, no matter if it's the actual Olympics, the Deaflympics, or the Paralympics, it's just an honor to wear the Red, White and Blue,” Taylor told WHSV on the final day of competition.
For two and a half weeks, he competed against the best deaf volleyball players on the planet.
The United States finished fifth.
“Honestly, I'm just happy that the team came really well together. It's been an unbelievable experience honestly, I met so many deaf people around my community,” Taylor said after his final match. “Learning a lot of sign language that I didn't know before. I'm not very good at signing yet but I hope to take a class very soon.”
In representing the United States, Taylor found a new purpose. Being a role model.
“It's just weird, I've never really been a role model. I've always looked up to other people like Lebron James,” Taylor said. “I guess these deaf kids are looking up to me like I'm their LeBron James.”
Taylor did have one message for those that look up to him.