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Examiner
  • Steve Taylor puts his troubles on ice

  • At first glance, Steve Taylor looks more like a football player than an ice-skating fanatic.


    Taylor, 55, has a tough build beneath his hooded sweatshirts, and his head is shaved. He definitely played the rough-and-tough sports in his youth, including football, baseball and basketball. When athletes are younger, they compete among one another for trophies and state titles.

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  • At first glance, Steve Taylor looks more like a football player than an ice-skating fanatic.
    Taylor, 55, has a tough build beneath his hooded sweatshirts, and his head is shaved. He definitely played the rough-and-tough sports in his youth, including football, baseball and basketball. When athletes are younger, they compete among one another for trophies and state titles.
    But for adults, the adage holds true: The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
    When an injury forced Taylor to retire before age 50, depression set in and getting up in the morning became a struggle. Then, in late 2009, the Independence Events Center ? and its Centerpoint Community Ice Facility ? opened its doors.
    A childhood pastime held the key to get Taylor’s life back on track.
    “The rink became my motivation,” Taylor says. “I was driven every day to get up to go down there.”
    With public skate sessions taking place about six days a week, Taylor estimates he’s missed just 60 days in the nearly four years since he started back on the ice.
    “There are some other ‘regulars’ who are adults that skate quite frequently, but nowhere as often as Steve,” says Chris Johnston, who has managed the Community Ice Facility since the summer of 2009. “I think it’s terrific that it has made such a positive lifestyle change for him.”
    A LIFE-CHANGING DAY
    Taylor, an Independence native and 1975 graduate of William Chrisman High School, now lives in Lee’s Summit, about a five-minute drive from the Events Center. Taylor was about 12 or 13 when he ice skated for the first time at the old King Louie West ice rink in Overland Park, Kan.
    He played in some adult hockey leagues, completing his last season in 2001. Taylor says he enjoyed the sport’s intensity, as well as the skill sets that ice hockey requires.
    “It’s the challenge of knowing that not everybody can skate, not that they haven’t given it a try, but it’s just a sport against yourself,” Taylor says. “As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that anybody, for the most part, can play football, baseball, basketball and soccer. But, when you get on those two blades, it’s more of a challenge because not everybody can skate, and that’s what really got me interested in it.”
    Life was rolling right along, so to speak, until one day changed everything.
    Taylor remembers the date well: Aug. 31, 2005. Hurricane Katrina struck Gulf Coast communities, and Taylor worked his final shift as a railroad conductor.
    A third-generation railroad conductor, Taylor worked for Union Pacific Railroad, his route encompassing Kansas City to Jefferson City and back.
    “That’s all I ever wanted. That’s all I ever wanted to do,” Taylor says of the profession. “Then, that was taken away. I was 48 years old when that happened. I really liked the job.”
    Page 2 of 3 - That day, Taylor’s freight train “hit a bad spot,” almost like a car hitting a rough pothole. He bounced up, and when his body came back down, he suffered nerve damage.
    He underwent a series of epidural treatments for his back, which didn’t work. Doctors then tried burning the nerve. That also failed.
    The railroad said he could no longer perform the physical tasks associated with the job, so Taylor retired.
    Then, he says, he “tailspinned.” Depression set in. In a few years, Taylor put on more than 80 pounds.
    “I didn’t want to do nothing. I just kind of stayed in the house,” Taylor says. “It was pretty bad.”
    THE RECOVERY
    Taylor cried in describing his emotions to his doctor. He was prescribed medication to help with the depression.
    One day, Taylor woke up and told himself, “Enough with the pity party.”
    Doctors told him he needed to exercise and asked Taylor what activities he enjoyed. Ice skating immediately came to his mind.
    The first time he went back out, sometime in the summer of 2010 at the Centerpoint Community Ice, Taylor fell down.
    “I remember going, ‘Oh boy, this isn’t good,’” he says. “I got back up, and right then, it was like a light bulb coming on ... I said, ‘I’m going to beat this.’”
    In the beginning, he’d skate for about five minutes ? “if you want to call it skating,” Taylor says ? and sit for 15 minutes. He built up his endurance and slowly got back into shape.
    “And now,” Taylor says of the two-hour public skate sessions, “I never come off the ice.”
    The result? Taylor felt better, physically and emotionally. He was able to wean off of the anti-depressant and pain medications. His blood pressure dropped. The weight dropped off, too, to the tune of 85 pounds.
    “I just started feeling good again,” Taylor says.
    He says he found encouragement among the Community Ice Facility staff members. Taylor also started forming close ties with many of the adults and children who also are regulars on the ice.
    “I can’t change the aging process, but just getting down there and interacting with the kids I mostly feel like I’m in my 20s,” Taylor says. “It’s a positive effect for me, and I enjoy interacting with the kids.”
     
    FINDING A NEW FAMILY
    Prior to Tuesday evening’s public skate session, Taylor is quick to introduce his many friends – his extended family – at the ice facility.
    Once he gets to skating, Taylor falls into a routine, almost oblivious to his surroundings.
    Except when it comes to the kids.
    “They make it all worthwhile,” Taylor says.
    Page 3 of 3 - Take, for example, Kyle Bishop of Blue Springs. Kyle, 9, couldn’t stand on two skates when he first started out at the Community Ice Facility. Now, he recently qualified to play in an ice hockey tournament in Arkansas, and Kyle’s mother, Nicole Bishop, says that’s due largely in part to Taylor’s help.
    “If Kyle had any questions, (Taylor) would really get down on his level and talk to him, not at him,” Nicole Bishop says. “If it weren’t for Steve, he’d probably still be not being able to skate very well.”
    Taylor is a big part of the skating family, Nicole says, and people are drawn to talk with him about anything and everything in their lives. Kids, Nicole says, look up to him “like a big brother.”
    While Taylor is by no means a coach, he’s seen these kids since they’ve started skating and pushes them to practice and gives them little pointers. He also lends an ear when they need a confidant.
    Gina Ducey of Independence, whose 12-year-old daughter, Alexandria, is a figure skater, says the Community Ice Facility wouldn’t be the same without Taylor. Johnston agrees.
    “I think the nice thing for me is he is someone out there who is an additional set of eyes out there,” Johnston says. “He talks to the parents and he makes them feel comfortable. He has the best interests of the kids in mind.”
    Ice hockey has allowed Taylor to get back in shape for several of his other hobbies, including the exploring of Missouri caves and riding his bicycle along Little Blue Trace Trail. Naturally, he also is a Missouri Mavericks season ticket holder.
    Taylor says he understands ice skating won’t take him anywhere significant, such as national competitions. He keeps his goals and expectations within reason: He would still like to lose a bit more weight.
    “It’s just for my own entertainment, but it gives me something to do,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and know what I am going to do: I know I’m going skating. It’s just become a real good part of my life.”
     

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