In her junior year of college, Canon-McMillan High School graduate Brittany Taylor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a crippling disease that affects the central nervous system.
Rather than end her career as college basketball player, at both Ekerd College and Ohio Valley University, Taylor perservered despite the diagnosis.
Doctors told her to quit. When she balked, they told her to limit her playing time to five to 10 minutes per game.
She played 30 per game.
“I was told by my doctors to quit,” Taylor said. “But there was no way I was going to do that. I just had to be careful.”
Now 25, Taylor still isn’t allowing her illness to hold her back. By day, she works at Steptoe & Johnson, a law firm that specializes in energy cases. In the fall and winter, she’s an assistant girls basketball coach at Chartiers-Houston High School.
And last week, she made her debut as a member of the Pittsburgh Passion women’s football team.
Forget being careful. She’s playing tackle football.
“I was a ball girl at Canon-McMillan for eight years and watched my brother (Eric) play,” said Taylor, who played defensive back for the Passion in their season-opening 66-0 win at Toledo last weekend.
“I always wanted to play. This is kind of a dream come true for me. I just want to follow up on that dream.”
Taylor, a former basketball, track and volleyball standout for the Big Macs, isn’t the only former Canon-McMillan athlete on the Passion. Chelsea Zahn, who was the Passion’s marketing director the past two years, joined as a linebacker this season after getting a job in the marketing department of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s really nice to play with somebody who you grew up playing sports with. That really made the experience a lot more fun,” said the 23-year-old Zahn, a graduate of Duquesne University, where she was a member of the track team, throwing the discus and hammer. It was an experience neither woman thought would ever happen.
For Taylor, each time she steps onto the field, she has to be aware of how her body feels.
“Putting on the pads and then running around, that can cause certain symptoms of MS to flare up,” Taylor said. “I defintely have to be cognizant of how I feel. In college, I would push things to the point where I’d start feeling it. I don’t do that now. But I only have one life to live and I want to do the things I want to do.”
Multiple scerlosis is an inflammatory disease in which the insulating covers of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord become damaged, affecting the ability of the central nervous system to communicate properly. There is no cure.
Women are three times more likely to develop the disease than men. Because of that, the Passion, who won the Independent Women’s Football League championship last year, will hold a multiple sclerosis awareness day Saturday when they host the Philadelphia Firebirds at 7 p.m. at George Cupples Stadium in Pittsburgh.
Taylor and her battle with the illness will be highlighted.
“I’m going to talk about it and they have actually produced a video,” said Taylor, who did not mention her illness to her teammates.
“They’re aware of it now, but I tried to keep it under wraps,” she explained.
What Taylor and Zahn can’t hide is their excitement for football.
Both were in the starting lineup against Toledo.
“For me, it was interesting to see what it was like playing with a whole team like that,” Zahn said. “I threw discus and hammer. But to see where, athletically, I fit into the team was fun. I definitely like hitting more than being hit.”
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “It was a big adrenaline rush. I had hit my teammates in practice since January. To hit somebody else was fun. I’m going to keep doing it until I no longer can.”