This is one in a series of 12 stories that explores the role of strength in modern life.
Nicolai Myers, a national strongman champion, wasn’t sure whether the kid’s shaky, 99-pound body could handle the 30-pound medicine ball. But he asked him to try to lift it anyway. The kid, Miles Taylor, a 24-year-old photographer from Carroll County, Maryland, quaked, flailed, and shook as he bent over the ball, attempting to encircle it with his hands and bring it up to his chest.
Attempt one: fail. Attempt two: fail. Three, four, and five: fail, fail, fail.
Taylor has cerebral palsy, a condition that makes your muscles a mess. They become too loose or too tight, spasm, lack coordination, and do anything and everything you don’t want muscles to do when you’re trying to lift weight. At best, cerebral palsy affects just one limb. At worst, you live in paralysis and can hardly communicate. Taylor is in the middle: He can walk and talk, but it’s imperfect, and he had to go through extensive childhood therapy to do so.
Learning the lift was like figuring out a puzzle.
Learning the lift was like figuring out a puzzle. Taylor slowly pieced together each requisite movement—hinging at the hips, bending the knees, stabilizing the spine, clasping the fingers, and straightening the knee and hip joints—into one, bringing the ball off the ground and up to his chest. “That’s when I got bit with the strongman bug,” says Taylor. He had shown up at NeverSate, a Maryland gym, to photograph a competition, but he left a member. That was a year ago.
“The hardest part of working out for me has been control,” says Taylor. “I have to focus on every muscle and every movement to do any lift.” His first time deadlifting, for example, Myers had to steady Taylor from falling as he practiced form with an empty 25-pound bar. “His body will never be able to get in the traditionally correct position for most lifts,” says Myers. “So with every lift, we go to the drawing board and figure out where he’s the strongest and most stable so he’s safe.”
“When I photograph activities, I’m much more stable and have more endurance”
Taylor first came to the gym once a week. But within a few months, he was a daily visitor. “I now realize the strength I have and want to keep getting stronger,” he says. “I’m a very competitive person.” In the winter, Taylor hunched over a barbell and ground out a 200-pound deadlift, sharing the video with his Instagram followers. The video took off. What the world didn’t see in the 30-second clip was that Taylor’s gym strength has benefited his daily life. “When I photograph activities, I’m much more stable and have more endurance,” he says. Simple tasks are easier, too, like moving a pot of water to the stove, and other things people take for granted.
Fine movements are still tricky. “He has a harder time putting on his lifting belt that he does deadlifting 200 pounds,” says Myers, causing Taylor to laugh. But he’s got help for that anyway. “The gym’s community is like my second family,” says Taylor. “We do group workouts, and the atmosphere is amazing. It pushes me to keep working.” Taylor’s next challenge: lift a 100-pound concrete stone and carry it across the gym, says Myers. “He just keeps getting stronger.”
JAMES SHAW JR.
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