By Chris Kowalczyk
SPORTING A THYROID
By Jessica Taylor
The harder you work, the worse you will become,
Never thought I would have to think about that before practice or a game.
Sweat that use to come from miles run and jump shots made
Quickly turns into perspiration from fevers after illnesses that stay and never go away.
Hair becomes dry, falls out strand after strand.
Now braids are the past, a memory, of what was.
Side effects become points that keep adding up.
Lifting is harder, well for this week at least,
Bench pressing 170, to barely lifting 80, big difference for me.
Dieting becomes that play that you just can’t get right.
Eat more, keep up your weight,
A year later 20 pounds gained.
Eat right, get your weight off,
It’s starting to feel like an endless race.
“Take one of these pills every day for the rest of your life” doctor tells me with ease.
That moment was the begging of a never ending game.
Be smart, one step ahead of my life opponent “T”.
Game plan figured out,
Get blood work checked every two months,
And don’t forget to take my new muscle milk replacement.
New motto for my life, take every day as it comes because one day it can change.
"Being able to express those feelings helped me, even if I didn't read them to anybody," Taylor said. "Just having them out of my body just helped me have a more positive energy and mindset, instead of keeping them in and being angry or sad."
Although she began writing in high school, Taylor has filled volumes of journals during her three years at VCU. Taylor, a senior shooting guard for the Rams, has weathered a career hindered by a multitude of health problems.
However, with her pen and paper as her aid, Taylor has managed to emerge older, wiser and hopeful for a promising future in 2010-11 and beyond.
Taylor, a double major in English and women's studies, has a faulty thyroid gland. The thyroid controls how the body uses energy, makes proteins and controls how sensitive the body should be to other hormones. Three years ago, Taylor was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid or, hyperthyroidism. Recently, the gland reversed course and became sluggish, a condition known as hypothyroidism.
Taylor's haywire thyroid causes extreme fatigue and wrecks her immune system. She's been hospitalized a number of times and has been sidelined by countless maladies. When her thyroid switched from hyper to hypothyroidism, she gained 20 pounds. At one point last season, she suffered a full body cramp during a workout and had to be rushed to the hospital. Earlier this year, just a couple of weeks after bench pressing 170 pounds, she couldn't even lift 80 because of a bout with extreme fatigue.
Her condition has been so problematic that it caused Taylor to question whether she'd ever have a meaningful college basketball career. In high school, Taylor played everything. Soccer, basketball, softball, cross country, you name it. Her energy seemed limitless. But now, she couldn't run a few miles or squeeze in an extra lift without suffering the consequences.
"I was crying," she said. "I couldn't understand why I was feeling this way. I didn't think I was cut out for college sports. But my family and [VCU Athletic Trainer] Nicole Stevens basically said, 'you can do this.' A lot of doctors were telling me, you're staying in the hospital, maybe you should rethink stuff. I just kept doing it. I just kept pushing. It was hard."
During her freshman year at VCU, Taylor couldn't figure out why she was so tired all the time. The fatigue was debilitating. Some doctors told her it was the rigors of adjusting to college life, others thought she was depressed. She was sick most the year and played sparingly for the Rams. It wasn't until she had a blood test that the source of her condition was revealed.
Even though she was happy to have a diagnosis, Taylor found the adjustment difficult.
"I didn't know what to tell coach the last few years. I can't practice today?" Taylor said. "I'm just that tired. I'm weak. It's tough to tell a coach that. You're on the sidelines and you worry that she thinks that she can't count on you."
Taylor regulates her thyroid with daily medication. She also has her blood tested every two months. Any slip-up can send her thyroid into crash-mode. Taylor has to be particularly judicious about the amount of exercise she gets. If she overworks herself, she will end up bedridden, possibly for days. Like most people, flying causes her to become dehydrated. Only, Taylor's condition amplifies the effect.
"We went to Las Vegas last year and my team went out to see the town, but I asked to stay in and sleep because I was tired," Taylor said. "I wanted to get up and go, but I was just so tired. The girls went out and enjoyed the experience."
It's only recently that Taylor has started to find the right balance. She says that she made it through VCU's preseason practices healthy for the first time. It's a good thing, too. With the departure of four seniors that accounted for close to 3,500 points during their careers, Taylor figures prominently in Head Coach Beth Cunningham's plans.
When Ebony Patterson tore her Achillies' tendon earlier this year, Taylor became the lone senior on this year's squad, which means the Rams will lean heavily on her for leadership and guidance. In a way, Taylor's experiences make her a perfect leader for this year's VCU team. She's hungry and feels like she has something to prove.
"I just want to prove to everyone that we're the same team," she says enthusiastically. "We have yet to win a championship here and I'd like to do that. That's still one of my main goals, that VCU is here to stay, that even though we lost three big contributors from last year, I don't think everything changed here. We have the same amount of talent and as a captain and as a senior I want to let the girls know to believe in themselves."
When Taylor has played the last three seasons, she's shown enormous potential as an athletic guard who can bomb 3-pointers and defend some of the CAA's top scorers. Last year, Taylor was the Rams' top reserve, averaging 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game.
Taylor thinks she can be even better in 2010-11. Through 19 games this season, she's averaging 4.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game. Through Her experiences may have dulled her star, but have given her a valuable perspective on life and on basketball.
"I always try to give my all in practice because I never know when it will be my last time to step on the floor," Taylor said. "I want to give energy, talking, screaming. Some of my teammates may think I'm annoying because I yell and stuff, but just seeing injuries with Ebony and how La'Tavia [Rorie] went out last year, you never know. Just with this, I could be fine and then who knows what could happen? So it just made me have an open mind and be greatful for still being here and trying to play."
When she graduates from VCU, Taylor hopes to publish a book of her poetry. You can expect a mountain of material to come from her college basketball career, an experience that forced her pen into action more times than she can count, but hasn't broken her spirit.
"It's a great feeling to step onto the floor. Basketball has gotten me to everywhere I am today, so I'm just very greatful."