As a toddler, Kyle Taulman fought cancer and lost movement in the lower half of his body. Today, the 16-year-old has his sights set on the 2022 Paralympics.
In March, Kyle will travel to Korea to cheer on his mentors and buddies in the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. He knows them from the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), where he is one of the youngest people competing in the elite categories.
Kyle skis the Slalom, Giant Slalom, and is training to compete in speed events like the Super G, using a monoski. He races against men who are 10 and 20 years older than he is. In his early years, though, there was a time when this didn’t seem possible.
Something Wasn’t Right
Kyle’s mom, Julie, remembers when Kyle stopped walking and the subsequent landslide of events that occurred in 2003.
Julie and her husband were raising their two little boys in Illinois. It was springtime, and her younger 18-month-old son, Kyle, toddled through the house and in the yard. In May, Julie noticed that Kyle was walking funny. Because of his age, she didn’t think it was a cause for concern.
But the changes kept coming. Kyle’s babysitter asked if new shoes were affecting his gait. He looked arthritic when he moved. He grabbed onto nearby furniture when he bent to pick up toys off of the floor. The typically happy kid was fussy, crying, and not eating.
Julie consulted numerous doctors, certain that Kyle had a serious problem. One pediatrician recommended they cut dairy from his diet; others just weren’t sure.
Julie’s gut was right. The problem no doctor had yet detected was that cancer—neuroblastoma—was gradually enveloping a portion of Kyle’s spine, blocking messages that traveled from his brain to his legs, telling them to move.
Neuroblastoma forms early in the nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus. According to the American Cancer Society, it occurs most often in infants and young children. It is rarely found in children older than 10 years.
“It was around Thanksgiving and I remember arguing with (Kyle). I was standing at the top of the stairs and he wanted to come up. I hollered, ‘You will walk up these stairs by yourself!’ ” Julie recalls. “But he never moved. He sat and cried. I went down and picked him up, knowing something wasn’t right.”
“It was so difficult as a parent. I know now that he wouldn’t move because he was in pain,” she says.
Julie pleaded with a neurologist’s receptionist to get the boy in to see the doctor as soon as possible. They finally got an appointment for an MRI that December. But on the day of the scheduled MRI, Kyle’s nose was runny, prompting the doctor to postpone the appointment until after the holidays.
Though the delay was a blow to the family, Julie and her husband decided to take their annual holiday trip to Steamboat Springs. Meanwhile, the cancer kept growing. While in Steamboat, Kyle’s dad noticed his son was not moving the lower half of his body at all. To make matters worse, the little boy caught the flu.
The Taulmans ended up flying back for an emergency MRI. That’s when doctors revealed that a cancerous tumor was growing around Kyle’s spine.
Fast Forward 13 Years
Kyle and his family survived the cancer, which caused paralysis in Kyle’s lower body. The experience also prompted the Taulmans to move their family to Steamboat Springs.
“When something like this happens, you rethink the things in your life,” Julie says. “Steamboat Springs was always a place we loved. We moved with the intent to refocus our lives around our kids.”
Julie’s goal was to find activities the four of them could do as a family. Twelve years ago in Steamboat, adaptive sports weren’t fully developed. Fortunately, Steamboat residents had an adventurous, can-do spirit. Instead of saying, we don’t do that, they said, well, we’ve never done that before, but let’s give it a try.
With the support of his parents and the town of Steamboat, and Kyle’s own inner drive, the little boy has grown into a teenager who jumps into life with speed, intention, and a sense of adventure. He sings in school plays, and just passed his driver’s test, using hand-controls on the car. He’s hanging out with friends, and when he’s not in school, he is a champion ski racer.
It may be hard to imagine, but skiing can level the playing field. At school, in a store, inside his home, Kyle uses a wheelchair to get around. But on the slopes, Kyle uses a monoski. He sits in a specially designed bucket-chair that’s mounted to a single, central ski.
“In a wheelchair, I have learned to do everything everyone else does, but still feel a bit limited,” Kyle says. “But when I ski, I can do everything anyone else can do. I can go around people. I can go fast. I love the feeling soaring down the mountain.”
Driven To Compete
Steamboat is already known for developing Olympic-caliber skiers, and Kyle wants to add Paralympics to the town’s repertoire. As a competitive athlete, Kyle pushes his limits, both physically and mentally. He’s inspired to be his best self by the friendly, supportive people in the Paralympic community.
“I’ve learned some life lessons along the way,” Kyle says. “When I travel for competitions, it’s with the NSCD team. I’m able to be out there and independent. In mainstream media you don’t see many paraplegics. These people have inspired me, but also taught me life lessons.”
This year, he’ll watch the 2018 games, learning what he can, and planning his next move.
“I know my situation seemed really bad at first,” Kyle says. “But we never would have moved out here if I weren’t paralyzed. I would not have met so many incredible people. Yeah, the paralysis closed some doors, but it opened so many others.”