Now, the Bridgewater College sophomore is carrying her lacrosse team to wins.
What she’s doing is exceptional for any lacrosse player. Her 43 goals and 16 assists lead the Eagles by wide margins through 12 games, and both rank among the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s leaders.
In the context of her medical history, those numbers are difficult to believe.
When she was a senior in high school, one doctor told her she would never play lacrosse again.
“We didn’t think she’d ever run again, let alone run and play and do what she’s doing,” her father, Glenn Chamberlain, said by phone in a recent interview.
In July 2009, Taylor Chamberlain, then a rising senior at Westminster High School in Finksburg, Md., had surgery on both feet to remove bunions – painful swelling on the side of the foot near the big toe.
But when she went out for tryouts for her senior season the following February, her feet “swelled up like balloons,” her father recalled, and the pain was even worse than before. He said the surgery, along with the period of immobilization afterward, had resulted in her tendons locking in place and made athletic participation impossible.
Taylor visited another doctor, and went back under the knife in March of her senior year to correct one foot, then in April to correct the other.
As her high school team got going for its season, Chamberlain spent eight weeks in a wheelchair, and either crawled or had to be carried to simple places like the car and the shower.
“I guess it was just frustrating, because – it even brings tears to my eyes – obviously I didn’t know that was going to be the outcome,” Taylor said recently, fighting back tears as she spoke. “It’s affected me emotionally a lot.”
She said she felt helpless through the summer months, as she moved from a wheelchair to crutches that essentially served as a walker for several weeks before she finally was allowed to walk on her own. Any type of running remained out of the question.
“In the summer, everyone was out swimming, and I was just sitting in the house with my mom, crying,” she said. “But you can’t think negatively when you’re in that position, or else you’ll just beat yourself up.”
In particular, Chamberlain refused to acknowledge the possibility that her lacrosse career was over, even in the face of firm medical advice.
“I kind of don’t take no for an answer,” she said, smiling.
But her parents were more realistic.
“She must have been more glass-half-full than us, because the surgeon’s a sports med guy, and he said, ‘Taylor, put lacrosse on the backburner,’” Glenn Chamberlain said.
It wasn’t until she enrolled at Bridgewater that fall that she first started light conditioning. Chamberlain, who — needless to say — went entirely unrecruited out of high school, first met then-first-year coach Kim Lowry at a morning workout that fall, not even realizing she was the coach.
The first meeting didn’t go well.
“She yelled at me, because I wasn’t jumping and doing what everyone else was,” Chamberlain recalled with a chuckle. “She probably thought I was being lazy, but I actually couldn’t do it.”
Lowry said when she first spoke to Chamberlain about her feet issues, she didn’t think too much of them, only that it would be “something we’d have to deal with.” Only when she saw Chamberlain’s skills as a lacrosse player did she realize how important it would be to find a way to get her on the field.
Chamberlain went through intense rehab with BC’s training staff through the fall of her freshman year, including correcting a running gait hampered both by pain and by limited flexibility in her feet.
By the following spring, in 2011, Chamberlain, a natural left-hander who is also comfortable with her right, emerged as one of the best young weapons in the ODAC, leading BC with 44 goals and adding 10 assists, good enough for a conference honorable-mention selection.
This spring, after more rehab – including near-daily swimming, which Chamberlain said did wonders – she is practicing almost every day and is no longer given minute-limits in games, as she was last season to ensure her health.
But while her gaudy numbers don’t show it, Chamberlain said she’s still not 100 percent. Her feet still impair her speed and cutting ability, she said. She also would probably be playing midfield for the Eagles if she could handle the constant running; instead, she plays in the attack so she can rest when the ball’s in the defensive half.
In fact, it’s when she’s not engaged in the action when you might see the most obvious current sign of Chamberlain’s ailment. When the ball’s on the other side of the field, Chamberlain squats on her toes, which takes the pressure off the painful side of her feet.
Her teammates know exactly why she does it. But occasionally, she said, an opposing player will ask, “Are you OK?”
“I’m like, ‘Yeah,’” she said, a sarcastic smile on her face. “‘If you only knew.’”
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