Dealing with life-changing injury
Foundation formed to help Taylor deal with injury, medical costs
Last March, Georgia outfielder Johnathan Taylor's life changed in the blink of an eye when collided with teammate Zach Cone as they both dove for a sinking line drive in the third inning of the Bulldogs' contest against Florida State.
Cone left the game with a concussion, but returned to the lineup two days later against Mercer. Taylor, the Bulldogs' leadoff hitter and top base stealing threat, was not as fortunate. He suffered a neck injury in the collision that paralyzed his extremities, leaving him with no feeling in his legs or fingers. He has limited use of his arms, and because his spinal cord was not severed, there is hope he will improve with daily rehabilitation.
Taylor, a native of Acworth, Ga., had surgery immediately after the collision at St. Mary's Hospital in Athens, and five days later was transferred to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta for in-patient rehabilitation. On May 24, Taylor graduated to the "Day Program", and has continued recovery efforts as an out-patient.
Now, 11 months after his baseball career was tragically cut short, Taylor's focus is on continued rehabilitation and finishing his bachelor's degree at Georgia. But for Taylor to accomplish those goals, he will need lots of support -- physically, emotionally and financially.
While catastrophic injury policies carried by Georgia and the NCAA will cover Taylor's medical expenses for the foreseeable future, there will always be costs not fully covered by insurance.
After hearing the news of Taylor's situation, Chris Stowers -- a former Georgia outfielder (1993-96) -- felt compelled to help even though the two had never met.
"During my career, it had never occurred to me that you could have that catastrophic of an injury during a baseball game," Stowers said.
Although several years apart, the two also played youth baseball at the same facility in Cobb County -- the East Cobb Baseball Complex -- and Stowers had heard Taylor was a great kid. Taylor is a native of Acworth, Ga, a far-flung suburb of Atlanta.
Stowers contacted Taylor through one of the UGA assistant coaches, and offered his assistance.
"I wanted to do something for him," Stowers said. "I met him and his mom Tandra at lunch last summer. He was a super-nice kid with a great mom even though they were dealing with this injury."
Taylor was surprised by, but grateful for the offer, and Stowers followed up the meeting by recruiting about 20 friends, family members and fellow Georgia Bulldogs to form the charity "Dawgs for JT" - a pending 501(c)3 organization.
After many months of hard work, the group is holding a fundraiser on Saturday at the Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta at 8 p.m., featuring live music. Tickets are $25, and 100 percent of the price will go directly to Taylor's recovery. Through corporate donations and monies raised by the "Dawgs for JT" host committee, the charity has raised enough money to completely underwrite the event.
"The event is totally paid for so every ticket that is sold and every donation moving forward goes to Johnathan's trust fund," Stowers said.
While Taylor is dedicated to his rehabilitation, he also returned to Athens for school this semester and is living on campus with a caregiver that is interning in athletic training. He attends classes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and commutes to Atlanta with his trainer to rehab at Shepherd. Taylor is thrilled to be back on campus among his friends and teammates.
"I see [my teammates] quite a bit after school," Taylor said. "I do my rehab at the field, so I see my teammates a lot. Also, at night I get to hang out with them on campus.
"They've been helping me quite a bit. Whenever I need them, my teammates are there for me. They make sure I'm feeling comfortable and am staying on top of things. It is good to have their support."
Taylor is pursuing a degree in consumer economics, and has about 18 months of coursework left before graduation. After completing his schooling, Taylor has aspirations of becoming a financial planner for athletes.
"It's great to have J.T. back in Athens where he is surrounded by his friends, teammates and coaches," Georgia head coach David Perno said. "It's nice to see him around campus and at the baseball field again. There's a different energy level when he's around; you can see it from everyone around the field and wherever he goes."
In addition to local attention, Taylor's story has been in the national spotlight as well. On March 7, he will be honored by the Tempe Sports Authority Foundation in Arizona at the 19th Annual Courage Awards event. Each year, the organization recognizes three or four individuals who have overcome an obstacle in their athletic careers.
But first, on Saturday night, Taylor will be attending the "Dawgs for JT" benefit, along with his former teammate Cone, who was the 37th overall pick by the Texas Rangers in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft.
"Dawgs for JT" has gotten a great response from supporters in the Atlanta area, but the group is hoping the numbers continue to grow.
"There is an army of about 20 people out there selling tickets and getting the word out, and trying to have as many people possible attend so we can raise as much money as we can," Stowers said.