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Taylor Lipsett was told over and over again as a kid that he’d never play sports. It was just too dangerous. Growing up with osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare genetic condition that that’s commonly known as “brittle bone disease” meant that even being bumped into accidentally or shoved playfully by a friend could lead to hospital visits, broken bones, and long, painful recovery times.
“Focus on the good,” his mother said over and over again. Now 26 and a forward on the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, Lipsett recounts how his mother encouraged him not to focus on the things the doctors said he couldn’t do, but to focus on the things he knew he could. So Taylor focused on school: He graduated high school at the top of his class, he received an academic scholarship to Southern Methodist University where he graduated in 2009 with a degree in finance.
“It was great to be a good student, and get academic scholarships, but it never filled the void of really wanting to be a part of a team,” Lipsett says. “Growing up as a kid in Texas, at that age, all the little boys are going out and buying their first baseball bats or flag football sets, and to be told you’re never going to get that opportunity is pretty devastating.”
What would his doctor say if he saw him now? Well, actually, Taylor eventually managed to convince him to come around. “The first time I was introduced to sled hockey, I didn’t tell him, because that way he couldn’t tell me no,” Lipsett says. “But really, having the support of my mom and family and friends, and eventually my doctor has been awesome and really helped fill that void.”
Lipsett has played with the national team since 2004 and has four world championship medals to his name (two gold, a silver, and a bronze). He earned gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and bronze at the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino, Italy.
As part of the the 17-man paralympic sled hockey team, Lipsett will head to Sochi to play in the second week of March. Ten of the members are returning athletes from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (where the U.S. captured gold), and there are seven new members. The team members range in age from 15 to 32 and come from all over the U.S. Some, like Lipsett, have played on the national team for years (Lipsett’s in his third season) and are considered the veterans, but the one thing they all have in common according to Lipsett is pure, unbridled talent.
“We have a great team,” Lipsett says. “We’ve got youth and speed; in fact, we’ve been the youngest team in the world, I think, for the past six years. We’ve got a good mix of intensity and experience and passion.”
But Lipsett—who also works full-time and is getting his master’s degree—stresses that none of his Olympic dreams would be possible without the support of his friends, family, and doctors.
“My family is key to making this happen,” he says. “Not only do I sacrifice a lot—it’s a balancing act—but so does my wife, so does my mom. They give up a lot, and their sides of the stories aren’t told as often. —Alanna Nuñez