Editor's note: Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson is in Pyeongchang, South Korea, covering the 2018 Winter Games. This is the second in a series of articles profiling Utahns competing in the Olympics.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Taylor Morris yearned to be an Olympian long before he knew anything about the sport that would make his dream a reality.
But when the Bingham High alum found himself in a situation where his dream seemed certain, he made a mistake. He was competing for a spot on the 2014 Olympic luge team when his teammate crashed in front of him.
“It jarred me, and I started thinking about the opportunity,” Morris said. “I thought, ‘I just need to place in the top 15. I started thinking too much about that and not about what I needed to do and how hard I’ve worked. It was really difficult.”
When Morris reached the bottom of his run, he had missed making the team by a fraction of a second — four thousandths to be exact.
It was an opportunity missed by so small a margin, it’s immeasurable with anything but a computer. It was an excruciatingly painful turn of events that could have meant the end of his sliding career.
“I made a few mistakes that led to me not making the team,” he said of the run that ended his hopes of qualifying for the Sochi Olympics. “It was a heartbreaking.”
The 26-year-old grappled with regret and frustration, wondering if all the sacrifice was worth it.
“There was definitely a period where I was sulking,” he said. “You get four years to train every single day, you work your butt off to get to where you’re trying to go, and the end result, missing it by such a small margin, it was definitely heartbreaking.”
It was the love, support and maybe most importantly, the perspective of family and friends that pulled him through those toughest days. Eventually, their faith became his.
“It was more just looking at it from an outsider’s perspective,” he said. “Having family, friends, really my whole community just tell me, ‘You can get back up on the horse.’ They offered small acts of kindness and support, and it set me up for this next quad.”
Morris’ pursuit of representing the United States in an Olympic Games may have been born in his imagination, but it’s always belonged to those who love him most.
“Our entire family has been invested in Taylor’s journey,” said his father Brian Morris. “In the beginning, having to drive him an hour up and down the mountain (to Park City), and then we went to Lake Placid for him, rather than other tourist spots or family vacations.
"We’ve given up a lot of family time because he’s gone sometimes six to nine months. That’s a lot of time to give up to a sport, but that was the only way he was going to get to the level of success he was hoping to achieve.”
Taylor said he began dreaming of being an Olympian while watching Michael Johnson win gold during the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996.
“I don’t know if there was a pivotal point or moment,” he said. “I just saw him … and I thought, ‘This is what I want to do. I’m going to try everything in my power.’ I changed a lot in my life.”
He ate what he saw athletes eating, replacing junk food with vegetables and soda with milk.
“I was very determined to emulate these guys,” he said of Olympians like Johnson.
Shortly after Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Games, his father saw a newspaper ad inviting children to participate in luge clinics.
“It was a summer program in like 20 or 30 cities, and it was sponsored by Verizon Wireless,” Brian Morris recalled. “It was a two-hour clinic, and the kids tried inline skate wheels on luge sleds. There were 40 or 50 kids in the clinic.”
Taylor remembers officials blocking off the steep streets near the University of Utah, and Olympians talking with them about the sport. They did push-ups and sit-ups and rode sleds down the steep roads.
“It was enjoyable right from the start,” Taylor said. “And to meet Olympians when you’re trying to become an Olympian, that’s really cool.”
He was invited to a longer camp in Park City, and then after that he participated in a developmental program. It meant a lot of long drives for his parents, as the family lived in South Jordan at the time. But Taylor had found his passion.
“I loved watching luge,” Taylor said. “I loved it right from the start.”
Taylor advanced fairly quickly, and the Morris family made sacrifices financially and emotionally to support his dream.
“We could see pretty quickly he was comfortable on the sled,” Brian said. “He wasn’t afraid of the speed. … I watched him crash one time, when he was 13. He came completely off the sled. It happened in a spot on the track where I could see it happen.”
Brian rushed to his aid, as did coaches and medical personnel. Brian started saying something about canceling the other three runs, but Taylor stopped him.
“I’m not done,” Brian recalled his son saying. “I only get a few runs. I’m taking them. I knew then that he loved the sport. I knew he wasn’t scared. That’s when I knew he’d be very good at it.”
Knowing what his son had sacrificed and how hard he’d worked to pursue a trip to the Olympics made 2014 hard on the entire Morris family.
“We had our airline tickets reserved,” Brian said. “It was very disappointing for him. But I knew very quickly, he wasn’t going to quit.”
Brian said he learned a little something about his son in that moment, and really about all of his children.
“I learned that my kids aren’t afraid to reach for something big,” Brian said. “Just because they don’t reach it on their first try, they’re not afraid, they’re not going to quit. They’re going to be determined and they’re going to see it through. And that little bit of pain is going to make it that much sweeter when you attain the goal.”
The reality is that Taylor said he thought almost immediately about giving up on that childhood dream after failing to make the 2014 team.
“That was probably one of the first thoughts in my mind,” he said. “It’s so crushing. It puts a lot of doubt in your mind. A lot of emotions go into that, and you’re kind of lost because you had the idea you were going to the Olympics, and you’re not. You have to re-evaluate.”
Taylor said he crashed shortly after that, injuring his bicep. He didn’t compete for a year, and he got married in May 2014. The highs and lows, the heartbreak and the absolute joy took a toll.
“It’s emotionally taxing,” he said of the season leading up to the 2014 Olympics. “That entire year is just laser focus, and it was as intense as any year that I’ve ever slid. The idea of making the team is weighing on your mind every single run, every single session. … And going out and competing year after year, it’s just mentally taxing. … It’s kind of depressing knowing you have another four years before I get another shot.”
Taylor worked at a middle school in the special education department, and earned an accounting degree. A member of the Utah National Guard, he’s a member of the World Class Athlete program, which helps him financially with training and the cost of travel and competing.
And while the injury and close call took a toll, it was the support of his family, friends, fellow soldiers and community that gave him the courage to commit to several more years chasing that Olympic dream.
The Morris family was in the finish area when Taylor qualified for the 2018 team. It was down to two runs. He’d had a quality first run, and all he needed was a second run that equaled or bettered it.
“Sitting there waiting for him to cross that finish line, we looked up, saw the time, and all the pressure, all the worry, that all just washed away," Brian said. "I thought, ‘Wow. It took 16 years. But he just made his goal.’ It was surreal.”
Taylor said that as he looks forward to representing his country in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, he takes with him the lessons he learned in those most difficult moments.
“I learned resiliency,” he said, “Being able to trust yourself. You’ve been doing it for so long, you need to react rather than force yourself.”
And when he slides, he never slides for himself or by himself.
“(Failing) lit a fire that I could do this again, and I could go succeed in my dream,” he said. “And that wasn’t just a personal thought. It was my family, my friends, and really my whole community. They got me back up on the horse.”