Penn State Wrestling

Why David Taylor says he’ll be ‘the best I’ve ever been’ when he returns from injury

This summer has not gone quite as former Penn State wrestling standout David Taylor had expected it to.

After winning his first World Championship title in October and being voted the top pound-for-pound wrestler in the world, Taylor had expected that by this time, he’d be getting ready to leave with Team USA for acclimation camp and start training to defend his 86-kilogram title Kazakhstan.

Even though injury derailed that opportunity, the two-time national champ has been focusing more on what he’s gained this summer rather than what he’s lost.

From getting to spend more time working with and developing young wrestlers at Pleasant Gap-based M2 Training Center, working with his wife, Kendra Taylor, to extend their K2 Roots juice business, to fostering kittens, Taylor has taken full advantage of the time he’s had off from competition.

“Typically in wrestling, my summers are spent training, traveling to camps, competing oversees, I’m not home very often,” he said. “So this is the longest period of time I’ve been home in years. It’s been nice. But I definitely miss competing and am looking forward to being back.”

The Centre Daily Times caught up with the “Magic Man” during his bobblehead giveaway night Saturday at the State College Spikes game. Here’s what he had to say about his recovery, Olympic dreams and more:

Q: What was going through your head when you first learned of the severity of your injury and that you wouldn’t be able to compete to defend your spot on the world team?

A: That was tough. I’ve never in my life had to miss an extended period of time; I’ve been very fortunate. But I was fortunate that it happened when it did, and I’ll be back next year, no problem. But you can take things two ways, you can dwell on it, or you can realize, “Hey, this is in my past,” and I’m going to do everything in my power to put myself in the best position to be in the best shape, mentally focused, my body’s going to be healthy. In my mind, I’m going to be the strongest, fastest, best I’ve ever been when I get back. So it’s been very positive, and I’m really looking forward to start ramping up my training here as we start moving forward.

USA’s David Morris Taylor jubilates after winning against Fatih Erdin of Turkey in the final of men’s freestyle 86 kg category of Wrestling World Championships in Papp Laszlo Budapest Sports Arena in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (Balazs Czagany/MTI via AP) Balazs Czagany MTI via AP

Q: Having not had to deal much with injuries in the past, did you learn anything about yourself having gone through this experience?

A: I got a good piece of advice after I found out that I was going to be missing some time. Someone told me, “Sometimes you take for granted your gifts until they’re taken away from you. Then you realize at that point how you can really make an impact on people.” I would say that’s been the biggest thing. Wrestling’s always been my gift, my gift of being able to communicate with people, talk with people, share my knowledge, entertain people. When that’s gone, you realize what else you can do. I’m probably busier now than I’ve ever been. I’ve been able to fulfill in my life a lot of other things, and I think really been able to impact a lot of people during this journey, whether it’s just other people going through similar things or obviously just being able to spend quality time with my family and the kids at M2 Training Center.

Q: You said your focus now is the 2020 Olympics. What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to make your first Olympic team in front of fans here at Penn State?

A: You can’t really write a script any better than that. I’ve been so close to making the world team for a long time. I was one of the bests in the world but I couldn’t break through. I was finally able to make a world team, win my first world championship and have a great, great, (pause) thinking I was just going to rattle things off. Then all of the sudden you get faced with adversity. Then being able to come back and make my first Olympic team in State College, representing the United States at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, that’s exciting to me. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I just take one day at a time and try to be the best prepared I can be in April.

Former Penn State wrestler and world champion David Taylor waves to the crowd at Sunday’s wrestling meet between Penn State and Kent State. Penn State defeated Kent State, 52-3. Centre Daily Times, file

Q: Bo Nickal has been in your corner and you’ve been in his. What’s your relationship been like with him, and how have you seen him evolve after college? Do you feel a responsibility to help out some of the younger guys, like Bo, in the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club make that transition from college and achieve their goals on the next level?

A: I’ve had a really close relationship with Bo since the day he got to Penn State, being in similar weight classes and training partners. Last year at the World Championships, he was my training partner, I took him with me. It’s been exciting. He’s growing. Now he’s out of college and he’s starting that next phase of his life. When you get out of college, it becomes your profession. It becomes “this is what I want to do to support my family,” and it’s been cool to see that. He’s wrestling in the U23 championships this year in October, and I know he’s looking forward to competing and representing the United States, and he’s looking forward to the Olympic trials next year, as well. So we keep pushing each other every single day and that’s ultimately why we’re so successful here, because we have a lot of great people and great wrestlers who are challenging each other. But obviously we’re friends on and off the mat, all of us, so it’s been cool to watch him grow up.

Penn State 165-pounder David Taylor and 184-pounder Ed Ruth hold the championship trophy at the NCAA 2014 Division I Wrestling Championships in the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla. on March 22, 2014. Tessa Hursh The Daily Iowan, file

I wouldn’t say I feel a responsibility; I’m just wired like that. I like helping people. I’ve gotten to that point now where I’ve had a lot of experience, like that seasoned veteran that’s wrestled overseas, and I’ve wrestled in tournaments and laid out schedules of what I feel like can help put these guys in the best positions as possible to make world teams, to win world medals, to do those things. It’s just exciting to watch all these guys grow and watch them develop and watch them have success. That team atmosphere is so important to success. It’s just enjoyable to watch everybody grow up. I plan on competing through the 2024 cycle, so I plan on being around here for awhile as we continue to bring in great people and I’m excited to get to know them.

Q: How did you and your wife get into fostering cats, and how many do you have right now, in total?

A: It’s my wife. Back in the day before we got our first cat, I didn’t even like cats. All of the sudden, we got our first cat and I loved her — then we got another one. Our third one actually was a foster, and he’s just a unique cat to say the least. When his adoption fell through, we took it as a sign he should stay with us. It’s an amazing process. My wife takes these cats and most of them are really sick and she just nurses them. She sets her alarm every hour, two hours, middle of the night and nurses them back to health, and they go get adopted and find new homes.

We have three of our own, two of which we adopted over the past couple years. Then we have five, then two more. So 10 total, yeah, that’s a lot when you say it out loud. But we have different rooms for different ones. On Saturdays they go back to PAWS to get adopted. And the two others, recently someone found them and Kendra’s taking care of them. She does an amazing job. She has a huge heart and we try to spend a ton of time with them and they become very friendly and they typically tend to get adopted pretty quickly. Over the past year, I think we’ve found probably easy over 100 cats homes, which is pretty cool.

Lauren Muthler covers what’s happening right now in Centre County, from breaking news, road closures and weather, to cool and interesting stories she finds along the way. Oh, and Penn State wrestling.