Elana Meyers Taylor On Raising a Child With Down Syndrome

The Olympic medalist and women's bobsled world champion shares her inspiring story of preparing for the 2022 Winter Games while raising a child with Down Syndrome.

Elana Meyers Taylor and family.
Photo: NBC Olympics

With the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing kicking off in less than three months, three-time Olympic medalist and two-time women's bobsled world champion Elana Meyers Taylor is training hard. As she prepares for the main event, she's also prioritizing quality time with her baby boy Nico, whom she welcomed with husband and fellow Olympian Nic Taylor last year. The juggling act is one Taylor says she always saw herself doing.

"I always knew I wanted to bobsled and be a mom," says Taylor. "I wanted to have a family and wanted to have a big family. But when I became a bobsledder, it was like, 'Well, when can I do this? When can I start this journey?'"

Because she never had a normal menstrual cycle—something that was always just attributed to her being an athlete—doctors told her that it might be hard for her to get pregnant. In 2018, she wanted to start trying, but because she was still competing, she wasn't able to take the hormonal therapies that her doctors offered. She and Nic opted to try without them, and after a year, they conceived. "I found out while we were still in the midst of training, and I continued to train throughout my pregnancy," recalls Taylor.

She experienced what she calls a pretty standard pregnancy, complete with morning sickness and "all the fun symptoms that everybody has," but she was also diagnosed with polyhydramnios—aka too much amniotic fluid around the baby—which meant she had to see specialists for the duration of her pregnancy. In February 2020, when Taylor was 36 weeks along, her doctors voiced concerns about the baby not moving as much as he had been, and Taylor was induced.

"He spent a couple days in the NICU, and then, we got to take him home," recalls Taylor, who is based in Atlanta. "And it was in the NICU that he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. He failed his newborn hearing screening in the NICU as well." Those were the first indicators that the Taylors would be going on what they call a different path.

At the same time, the pandemic had just begun. "As soon as we left the NICU, they had the first COVID case in Georgia in that hospital," says Taylor. "So immediately everything shut down."

She and her husband brought their newborn boy home and found support online. For instance, the couple began working with GiGi's Playhouse, an organization that helps facilitate early intervention therapies that babies with Down syndrome need to help them thrive. GiGi's Playhouse also pays for the therapeutic appointments, and as individuals age, helps facilitate tutoring in school, resume-building, and job placement.

Taylor was also able to connect with other parents of children with Down syndrome through social media. "It's been huge to have a virtual community," she notes.

Connecting with other parents was very much a part of Taylor's game plan for addressing her son's special needs—as was thinking like an athlete and asking herself, "What do we need to do next? What's the action plan?"

As it turns out, physical and occupational therapy has been a major part of the plan for Nico. "We started with the program Babies Can't Wait, which is a Georgia state-run program, and we have a physical therapist named Martha who's virtual, and she has been absolutely amazing the entire time," notes Taylor, who has also worked with an occupational speech therapy organization called Building Blocks in Atlanta. "The coolest thing is that all of our therapists have been able to accommodate and work with my training and travel schedule as well."

In turn, Nico has come a long way, reports the proud mom. "He's already saying 'Mama' and 'Dada,' and this is with only five to six months of having cochlear implants," says Taylor.

He's also become a "social butterfly," she notes. "We just got back from China," says Taylor. "During the trip, he learned to wave, and now he's so social and smiles at people. That's been really fun to see and to witness especially because after his diagnosis, we weren't sure what we would get from a communication standpoint, but since his implants, it's really been eye-opening to see his transformation."

Finding the best ways to support Nico has only served to strengthen Taylor's relationship with her husband who she calls "one of the most positive people" she's ever met. "When he heard Nico's diagnosis, it didn't even come close to phasing him," says Taylor. "He never cared. For him, it's like, 'OK, the diagnosis is Down syndrome. But there's a whole range of abilities within Down syndrome. We're gonna have to raise him to be happy and healthy and see what he wants to do and see where he leads us.' On my hard days, where we're going to multiple therapies and we're training hard, his positive energy really keeps me afloat."

As Taylor prepares to head to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, she's often asked if Nico is going to follow in her footsteps. But what she wants is far simpler—and perhaps even more powerful. "The biggest thing I want as a parent is to raise a happy, happy, healthy child," says Taylor. "Our expectation is to go out there and give Nico the best life possible. And I think that's the expectation we should all have."

She says that even if parents are in the midst of getting a diagnosis of Down syndrome for their child, "there's still so much beauty to be had in this life and so much joy you will have with your child, regardless of the diagnosis." It's a message she's committed to getting out there. "We have a great life, and I wouldn't change Nico for one second."

For additional opportunities to catch up with some of the Olympic hopefuls, head over to Reddit's Olympic and Paralympic Ask Me Anything Series on Thursdays.

To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning February 3 on NBC.

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