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Taylor overcoming adversity

By Brian Eller – beller@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL — There was a time when Cameron Taylor’s right knee was fully intact.
No strips of cartilage had fallen off, no pieces of bone were missing. On the strength of those knees Taylor was a gifted runner, midway through his first season as a member of Skyline’s track team.

But that was so long ago. Now a senior, Taylor can only remember what it was like to run alongside his teammates. He’s forced to recall that freak injury, a simple run at practice when he felt a discomfort in his knee, only to find out two small pieces of bone had broken off.

There were surgeries, months lost to rehabilitation and the hardening news doctors so regrettably had to relay to the 14-year-old that he could no longer compete in cross country or track and field.

It’s not all a sad tale, however. Like the knee that cost him a chance at a future on the asphalt, Taylor has been rebuilt. As the Hawks boys basketball team sits with an area-best 10-1 record entering tonight’s district opener against Handley, much of the credit goes to Taylor’s leadership on the court and his miraculous comeback over the last several months. He’s taken several steps to get to where he is today, some much more painful than others, but as Taylor will tell you, he just keeps on moving.

This past fall, Skyline’s boys cross country team capped off back-to-back impressive seasons, finishing sixth in the Group AA state meet for the second straight year. Imagine what they would’ve done with a healthy Taylor on their roster.

Through just one fall season, Taylor had flashed the ability to become one of the school’s top runners, and the notion that Taylor could challenge all-state runner Thomas Madden for the No. 1 spot was certainly plausible.

But it was a notion that would never be ushered into reality. During a spring practice for track and field, Taylor was turning a corner on a run, when his knee locked up as his foot hit the ground.

“I couldn’t straighten my leg,” Taylor said, “and I knew something wasn’t right and it started to swell immediately. I went over to the trainer and she said, ‘You need to go to the doctors,’ so I could tell it was serious.”

The misstep had taken two chunks of bone from Taylor’s right knee, what doctors described quite literally as “locked knee.” The diagnosis was troubling, as was the impending surgery Taylor would need in order to mend his suddenly less-than-whole knee. The news that Taylor’s cross country days were over, however, hurt the most.

“It hurt, hearing that,” Taylor said. “I was really upset because I had wanted to earn a running scholarship, and running was something I loved to do.”

But there would be no scholarship, only doctors’ visits and recovery time. Cross country and track and field were certainly out of the picture, and playing on the basketball team wasn’t going to happen for Taylor as a sophomore. Instead, coach Sonny Dyke named him the team manager, where Taylor sat on the bench, studied the game and kept stats for the team.

It was a frustrating experience, being so close to the court and in the game, yet a look down at his right knee served as a constant reminder that there would be no playing time coming his way.

“You could tell he wanted to be out there,” Dyke said. “But I think that time allowed him to watch his teammates and learn a lot about the game. And it’s shown with what he can for us.”

Still, over time Taylor’s health improved and his mobility returned to form. At a meeting with doctors, Taylor asked if his progress would allow him to at least be able to get back on the hardwood, where basketball would limit him to small sprints and occasional bursts of speed.

The doctors granted his wish, and Taylor returned to the team for his junior season, helping Skyline capture a share of the Northwestern District championship. Taylor was close to his old self. Until the day of Skyline’s first basketball practice this season, that is.

“I was getting out of bed, actually, and I stood up and it happened again,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t believe it, but we had to go back to the doctor.”

The pieces of bone the doctors had reattached had fallen back off. Fortunately for Taylor, this injury was less severe. Taylor was back in time for the team’s season opener, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact on the team.

Except for a six-point loss at home to Clarke County, Skyline has started the season with 10 wins, the most at this point in school history. Taylor himself is a big reason the Hawks are so lethal, both in the post and around the 3-point arc. His 11.7 points per game are second on the team, trailing only Ryan Dyke’s 17.8, along with his field goal percentage (53.3) and 3-point percentage (44.8).

In last Friday’s game against Warren County, the Hawks fell behind by 15 points in the first half and took a double-digit deficit into the locker room at halftime. That was all the motivation Taylor needed to lead his team on a comeback. Behind a monster second half from Taylor, Skyline chipped away at Warren County’s lead. Taylor himself scored 14 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, including the go-ahead basket with less than 15 seconds left to lift the Hawks.

“He’s always right here,” teammate Zack Henry said, motioning to a steady hand. “He never lets his emotions get away from him, no matter what’s going on. He’s always in control, and that makes him a great leader for us.”

That’s just what Taylor’s been doing for nearly four years. In the beginning it was on the cross country course, the year after with a clipboard on the team bench. Now, it’s on the hardwood, knee problems and all. To this day, Taylor admits he plays with an air of caution, not wanting to take a wrong step or crash hard into an opponent, regrettably reinjuring his knee. But no matter, Taylor says. There’s always going to be the risk of getting hurt, and knowing what that feels like simply means being able to play is something he won’t take for granted.

“I definitely loved running,” Taylor said. “But I’m so glad I’m still able to play basketball because it’s the other sport I love to do, and thankfully I get to do that.”