South Charlotte

Getting hit by a car didn't even stop him from cycling

Special Olympian and Jewish Community Center employee Robert Taylor is very strong.

"I don't know my own strength," said Taylor, 35. "Everyone says, 'take it easy,' but I don't."

Taylor is so strong that he chooses not to play tennis at Camp SOAR, the free annual Special Olympics Athletic Retreat for children (age 10 and older) and adults with special needs.

Taylor hits the ball too hard, so he opts instead to bowl and do art programs at Camp SOAR, located at the Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center in Shalom Park.

"Robert has attended Camp SOAR every year," said Bob Bowler founder of Camp SOAR, which is celebrating its 11th year in June. "When he is not a camper, he is helping us out with various needs throughout the week."

"I help push wheelchairs and move stuff out of the way," said Taylor. "If they ask me, I will help them."

Taylor is so strong that last year he survived being hit by a car traveling 45 mph.

"It was my fault," said Taylor.

He stepped out to cross a road near his Quail Corners neighborhood when he got hit. The accident broke Taylor's back and seriously injured his face and head.

"I have rods in my back," said Taylor.

"Doctors were very scared that he was not going to make it, and if he did that he would have permanent damage," said Taylor's supervisor Tim Whitener, fitness center director. "Yet Robert pulled through and his back is100 percent. I and the J would have lost one of the best people I have ever known. He truly is a miracle."

Of the accident, Taylor said, "My life changed. I'm nicer to the people. Now I pay attention to people."

In April, he was given the honor of carrying the torch and lighting what he calls the "throne" at the 2011 Opening Ceremonies of the Mecklenburg County Special Olympics Spring Games.

"I was nervous at first, but after awhile, I told myself that this is nothing," said Taylor. "I can do this...I helped carry the 'throne' down when it was done, very big honor."

Prior to his accident, Taylor won nine Special Olympic gold medals for bicycle racing.

Since resuming cycling, Taylor is in training to ride his first National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach on Sept. 24 and 25, in honor of a friend who has MS. Taylor is almost halfway to his fundraising goal of $300 and his training is progressing. Last week he logged 300 miles in three days, riding early before his morning shifts at the Levine JCC.

"Robert is a key staff member who has always been an asset to the J since he started (in 2005)," said Stephanie Garner, sports and fitness director. Taylor started at the LJCC doing part-time work maintaining the stationary bicycles. Now he works in the laundry and locker rooms cleaning and folding towels.

"But he does so much more," said Whitener. "He has become my right-hand man. Any time I need assistance or something to be done, he is right on top of it. He is always willing to go the extra mile to get the job done."