Story by Randy Rudder
Photos By DAN KANE
Taylor Charles was trying his best to stay focused. It was April of this year, and Taylor was on the starting blocks at the Nashville Sportsplex off West End. For months, he had been trying to qualify for the Olympic trials in several events. Today, he would have another chance to qualify in the 400-meter individual medley during a Nashville Aquatics Club swim meet. But in order to do so, he would have to knock at least five full seconds off his best time in the event to meet the qualifying time of 4:30:49 (four minutes, 30 and 49/100 seconds). Although shaving that much time off a 400-meter event is possible, the odds were certainly not with him.
Today it was even harder to concentrate than usual. Only a few weeks earlier, he had learned that his mother, Mary Jane Charles, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Mary Jane, a U.S.A. certified stroke-and- turn judge, was working his meet that day. “As I stood there on the starting block, I had a strange sense of calm come over me. And I knew what I wanted to do. I decided that I really wanted to do this for my mom.”
As Taylor shot off the blocks and swam the first leg of the medley, the butterfly stroke, he knew he was making good time. That leg would be followed by 100 meters of backstroke, then 100 meters of breaststroke, finishing with the 100-meter freestyle.
As Taylor swam his way through the next two legs, he felt like a dolphin gliding through the water. As he made his final turn and began the freestyle, he knew he was ahead of his best time, but didn’t know how far. He simply kept his focus and swam as hard and as fast as his arms and legs would carry him.
“Finally, I touched the wall, and I looked up at my mom. She was about two lanes over from me, and she was just beaming. That was when I realized I had beaten the qualifying time by almost a second. My mom looked really happy—and it was a kind of happiness that I hadn’t seen in face her for a while,” Taylor recalled.
The week of June 25-July 2, Taylor, based on his performance in April, will be among an elite group of swimmers who will compete in the 2012 Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska. After that, the finalists will be on to London, England for the Olympics in September.
Taylor’s journey to Omaha and maybe even to London is one that began in grade school. “My mom has always worked at the Donelson YMCA for as long as I can remember. She started me off with swim lessons when I was five or six, and then we quickly transitioned to the beginners swim team at the YMCA. I didn’t really love it at first, but it became such a big part of my life, and I started getting better at it, so I naturally grew to love it,” he said.
“That became my social life; I started doing a lot of things outside the Y with my swim team. Also, the great thing about swimming is that it’s an aerobic sport, like cycling or track and field, so, the harder you train, the better the payoff, and the more apt you are to see results. I really like that,” he explained.
“Then about four years ago, I was 13, and I went to my dad, and said, ‘I think I want to take swimming as far as I can go.’ Some people call it the ‘Michael Phelps effect’ (after the swimmer won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008),” Taylor laughed. “But I told him, ‘I want to do the very best I can, and maybe one day go to the Olympics.’ His dad said, ‘OK, but this is what it will take.’ So we started checking out some swim programs, and I really liked the Nashville Aquatics Club, so my I started going there.”
Taylor also swam on a summer team with the Willoughby Waves subdivision team in Mt. Juliet, but also did the more rigorous Nashville Aquatics Club program during the year. Since then, the typical week consists of both morning and evening practices of two to two-and-a-half hours on most days, with a Saturday practice as well.