As promised, here is our 10-minute, sit-down interview with Taylor Twellman, available exclusively on revolutionsoccer.net. In this interview (available in two parts), Taylor candidly discusses a variety of topics, including the timeline of his injury, the symptoms he’s fought to overcome and his road to recovery.
A full transcription of the interview is available after the jump.
Jeff Lemieux: I think pretty much everyone has a general idea of what your situation is right now, but it’s been reported so many ways, in so many different variations during the last year and a half, I just wanted to give you a chance – in your own words – to bring us through the timeline of when the original injury happened, the process that you’ve been going through, up until where we are now.
Taylor Twellman: Do we have an hour? (Laughs) It’s been a long road. It started [August 30, 2008]. I know these dates backwards because of the doctors and different people, the specialists that I’ve seen. (LA Galaxy goalkeeper) Steve Cronin came out and there was a ball between me and the goalie, and unfortunately when my head met the ball, so did his hand. At that time, I knew something was wrong. If you watch the game tape, I said I had a concussion right afterwards to Shalrie (Joseph). But it was one of those things where I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine. I’ll play through it, get through it.’ Well, about three weeks later we were in Colorado and that’s when it really kind of let loose – dizziness, double-vision, blackout spells, headaches. I played through it. Looking back on it, I wish I wouldn’t have, but I played the eight weeks after being punched and went through a lot of different processes. If you watch the replay, my neck, my head, everything’s in there. Long story short, I come back last year, I’m rehabbing. I came back, I should’ve been honest with the doctors – I played the D.C. and New York games with a small headache. I should’ve been honest. I wasn’t, and it is what it is. When your neck’s not stable – and I’m not going to go through the medical terms – but when your neck’s not stable, I don’t have any cushioning for heading the ball with my head. So I had a lot of concussion-like symptoms. Fortunately that 10-month, 11-month spell that I went through last year is over. I can smile, walk around, I can come to games. So right now I’m rehabbing. I saw Dr. (Robert) Cantu, who’s world-renowned with concussions, and he looked me right in the face in June and he said, ‘Do you want to play again?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Then you have to do it my way.’ And unfortunately that means patience and a lot of staying low-key and not pushing it. Because I’d like to push it right now and unfortunately I can’t, and that’s why I’m here today.
JL: You did mention that you struggled with the headaches and the dizziness and the blurred vision and all of that for a while, but right now, away from the soccer field, is that pretty much all behind you? Can you live your normal life, day to day and not feel those symptoms?
TT: “Yes and no. I’ve gotten to a point now where I can have five to six days of living a normal life. I can play a round of golf. Everybody goes, ‘Oh you can play a round of golf!’ You don’t understand how when the sun’s coming down and the different – I’ve really started over with the vision, with just stimuli coming from caffeine, (etc.). It’s been a start-over process. I’ve done everything that Dr. Cantu has told me to do. My neck is in very stable condition right now. So yeah, away from the soccer field, I’m doing alright. But to sit here and say it’s been easy? It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s been really easy coming to games every week and watching the team play. That’s been difficult.”
JL: Starting with the 2010 preseason, we’ve seen you out at training a lot. When we were up in the [Dana-Farber Field House] and down in North Carolina, I know you were just jogging, doing calisthenics work – all that type of stuff. You couldn’t even really touch a ball. What’s the process been like for you going through such a slow buildup?
TT: “Well it’s the exact opposite of who I am as a person. [The staff] obviously knows from watching me play, but for the fans that watch me play, I’m a big zero-to-100 guy. This injury has tested – more than anything – my patience, going step by step. The fact that I couldn’t dribble a soccer ball in January because it was too much for my brain to process – it’s been very difficult. Should I say I have patience now? I don’t think I do, but it’s been good because I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person and how I can contribute without being on that field. For what the fans don’t see, I didn’t miss one home game last year. That was against doctor’s orders. I wasn’t supposed to come to games. I just tried to find a way to be a part of it. It’s been difficult, I’m not going to lie. But the fact that I can run and go for a run five and six days a week right now is a step in the right direction.”
JL: I know coming back step by step that you’re at the point now where we’ve seen you joining in the passing drills, you’re doing a little bit of shooting off to the side and that type of stuff. How’s your body felt doing that and have there been any setbacks through that process?
TT: “As of right now, no, there’ve been no setbacks. [On Wednesday] I did more shooting than I’ve done in over a year, and I’m not going to lie to you, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Even though it was only 18 yards out and the ball wasn’t moving, the goalies could tell I was excited because that’s honestly where I miss being the most is in front of that goal. It’s been fun, but it’s a trying process to sit there and go through the passing drills and have every single one of your teammates look at you and say, ‘You’re not ready yet?’ That’s the hardest thing, especially seeing Steve Nicol on the sideline. Stevie and I haven’t talked a lot through this, because we both know that it’s difficult for both of us.”
JL: I know there’s obviously no timetable on your return, but do you know what the next step is in the rehab, and do you know when that might take place?
TT: “Well for instance [Wednesday was new]. I’ve been on a steady pattern of a 45-minute workout, and [Wednesday] we did 52. [That’s] without them telling me. This is a process that [Dr. Cantu] realized through talking to the other doctors and trainers that have worked in my life. They said, ‘Listen, you can’t tell Taylor a date, you can’t tell him anything, because he’s going to do it whether he’s feeling good or not.’ So I literally find out at 10 a.m. from Sean (Kupiec), our trainer. He’ll say, ‘Taylor, this is what we’re doing today. This is what you’re going to do, this is what you’re going to try to accomplish and if you’re feeling anything let me know.’ That’s helped me a lot, because if someone told me right now (I could play on) May 15, if I only had one leg I’d play. So that’s the hardest thing, but it’s also the only way I’ve got a shot at playing again.”
JL: I know eventually as this process moves along there’s going to be a day that comes when you’re going to be doing contact drills, and there’s going to be crossing and you’re going to be sticking your head in there. Do you feel that there could be any hesitation on your part when those types of drills come back up?
TT: “No. I think if we went through my career right now, Jeff – in 2003, I got kicked in the face, came back, played two weeks later. Then I broke my foot in 2004. (I’ve had) hamstring (injuries). I’ve always tried to play through things, but I’m not going to step back on the field if I cannot be that guy who can go for that cross in the box. And I owe that not only to myself, but to my teammates. If I’m going to be any type of different player … I want to be 100 percent, I want to be the normal Taylor that’s diving for head balls, that’s doing anything he can to score a goal. And I see myself doing that, it’s just I’m going to wait until I can be that guy. I’m not going to go out there 50 percent … it’s just not who I am.”
JL: I wanted to bring this up and give you a chance to respond. There’ve been a few rogue comments from fans who’ve maybe questioned your commitment a little bit, just because of the length of time it’s taken to come back from this process. What’s the message you have for people who have questioned your desire to get back on the field?
TT: “I smile, because I’m sorry people feel that way. But in all seriousness, if I wasn’t committed, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you about post-concussion. There was a ball 13 yards in between a goalie and I, and not many players would’ve gone for it. I did, scored the goal, and now I’m paying the price for it. I’ve never had to defend my commitment, and so I don’t think I should now. I think I’ve given my heart out the way I’ve played. Every time I’ve stepped on the field, I’ve worn the Revolution colors very well. For all those one or two rogue comments, there’s a lot of fans out there wishing me a lot of well and I thank them for that.”
JL: With all that said, going through this whole process, how difficult has it been for you to come out to training every day and watch your teammates train, and come to the games and watch your teammates play for a year and a half now?
TT: “I get choked up thinking about it. There are about five or six people in my life who could answer that question a lot better than me. The four people in my family – mom, dad, brother, sister. The days going home after every game, crying on the phone wondering if I’ll ever play again. Jay Heaps – I know he’s part of the Revolution family – he’s seen it in my face, he’s seen it in my eyes. It’s the most difficult thing ever, because if there was anything I took pride in, it was being that head guy, the guy that finished all the hard work my teammates did and scoring that goal. Right now I can’t be that guy, and seeing our team, knowing that they need me more than ever, it’s the hardest thing. More importantly, I’ve seen friends go. My best friend, my roommate, Steve Ralston – he’s gone. Jay Heaps is gone. So I never got that chance to ride off into the sunset, with those two especially, and that’s a struggle. On the other hand, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I’m going to come back a better man and a better player.”
JL: You are very much still a part of this 2010 Revolution team. Five games into the season, how’ve you felt the team’s looked?
TT: “I like it. For one thing, we’re young. Sometimes with youth comes inexperience, but I kind of like it. First of all, to even answer that, Stevie Nicol deserves a lot of credit, because we’ve had a lot of turnover and he still continuously gets players ready. It’s still young in the season, and it doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish, and I think this team’s going to finish well. I really do. It’s young, it’s fast, it’s exciting. But we need someone to score some goals, and hopefully I’ll be on the field soon enough to do that.”
JL: I have to finish up with the question I’m sure everybody is wondering. With the understanding that there is absolutely no timetable on your return, is your hope to be playing soccer for the Revolution in the 2010 season?
TT: “100 percent. I wouldn’t be out working out, I wouldn’t be going through the therapies, I wouldn’t be doing acupuncture two hours a day to do this (if I didn’t think I’d be playing). My goal is to step on the field in 2010 for the Revs, and who knows, it might be at MLS Cup.”