Taylor Jones is starting from square one. The Richmond, Virginia, man is learning the basics like cooking and other simple chores that can be challenging when you can’t see.
“It’s a crazy journey I’ve been through,” Jones said. “You don’t really need your eyes if you just teach yourself how to do it.”
The 31-year-old man lost most of his sight seven years ago. On Christmas morning 2014, Jones crashed his Jeep into a home after falling asleep at the wheel.
“The porch of the house collapsed on top of me when I was still in the car,” he said.
Suffering from severe brain injuries, Jones was put into a medically-induced coma. Doctors weren’t optimistic.
“They didn’t know if I would survive or how long I would survive,” he said. “They told my family they didn’t know what kind of brain function I was going to have.”
Jones needed to relearn how to walk, and his new standard has been a difficult adjustment.
“I have days that are tougher than others. I call them tough blind days,” he said.
He would draw strength from the one family member who was not by his side on the road to recovery.
“My mom gave this (Courage Rock) to me before she passed. Since then, it has always been my rock,” he said.
Jones’ mother, Katherine, lost her battle with cancer a year before his crash.
“It was really hard to watch her in so much pain and fight the way she fought. She had so much strength and courage. It never wavered,” Jones said.
Katherine’s spirit pushes him through daily.
“I lean on this quote a lot, ‘At any given moment we all have the opportunity to say this is not how my story ends,’” Jones said.
Taylor Jones’ story does not end on a couch.
“To me, in my head, there is no other option,” Jones said. “I’m thankful for what I still have.”
The former volleyball player for George Mason University may have lost his vision, but the crash did not rob him of his competitive spirit. Running would be his outlet.
“Seems kind of crazy, but why not,” Jones said.
Since his crash, Jones has finished 10 half marathons in Richmond.
“It was very emotional, and it was a very powerful moment for me,” Jones said.
But Taylor wanted to go farther.
“I realized the possibilities are there. I just have to go take them,” he said.
Two years ago, he set a goal to run the biggest marathon in the world: New York City.
“The seed was planted, and it blossomed from there,” he said.
The runner just needed a guide and running buddy to go the distance with him.
“People think you’re crazy when you tell them you’re a runner. One person didn’t think I was crazy,” he said.
That person was a friend and colleague Dan Beckmann, who volunteered to be Jones’ eyes in the Big Apple.
“To be a guide is so much more mental than physical,” Beckmann said.
The pair trained together month after month, mile after mile.
“Early in our training, I closed my eyes and tried to run, and it was terrifying,” Beckmann said.
Their bond was a low-tech solution. A simple shoestring kept them close. On Nov. 7, the friends started side by side for the 50th running of the New York City Marathon — all 26.2 miles.
“It was awesome,” Jones said. “Several other para-athletes were lining up with us, which was super cool.”
“And just like that, you go down, and you’re in Brooklyn, and the crowd noise is deafening. It is six deep on either side of you,” Beckmann said.
Jones admitted halfway in the marathon nearly got the better of him.
“I’m hurting. I want to stop running. It is not just me I’m running for,” he said.
But with Beckman’s guidance and a push from Mom, Jones persevered.
“I figured she would be like, ‘What are you doing? You’re running a race. Run. Go. Go!’”
“Just putting courage over fear is what we’re all about,” Beckmann said. “To take the place of fear ultimately is what we’re all about.”
The friends finally reached the end, the man who can’t see crossing first.
For Beckmann, their bond is stronger than a shoestring.
“Yeah. He is one of my heroes,” Beckmann said. “Taylor is one of my heroes.”
“It was like this is what all that work has been for,” Jones said.
Conquering the New York City Marathon is a pinnacle of personal success that can’t be measured with a medal. He may be starting over, but for Taylor Jones, crossing the finish lines in life matters most.
“I’ve been through so much to get here. I love this challenge, and I’m ready for the next one,” he said.
Jones isn’t hanging up his running shoes just yet. He is setting his sights on the World Marathon Majors. The next one is in Chicago in October 2022.
By Greg McQuade, WTVR.