On The Podium: Taylor Sherwood

by Denise Sechelski

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“Here we go…. Knees up…. Lean forward….Relax your shoulders…. Almost there….Good job.”

In a calm tone of voice that never seems to vary regardless of the pace, Taylor Sherwood has just lifted another Gazelle (okay, this Gazelle) up Spring Creek hill. He greeted everyone going up or down the hill, from longtime friends to the newest group member completing her first Gazelle workout. Taylor’s gift for sizing up a situation in the blink of a twinkling eye allows him to offer just what is needed at just the moment it is required: an insightful piece of advice on running form, a word of encouragement to the weary fartlek traveler, or a joke that seeps through the fog of hard effort and salvages the joy.

When Taylor’s daughter joined Gilbert’s cross country and track teams at St. Andrews Episcopal School in 2011, Taylor’s path merged with Gazelles, but his running life had begun years earlier. As a student at the Kinkaid School in Houston, Taylor was a speedy teen. At one point he held six school records, including the mile (4:29), 800 meters (2:00), the cross-country 2-mile (9:52), the track 2-mile, and both distance medley and 2-mile (4 x 800) relays.

“Running has been a part of my life since before Gilbert was born,” Taylor says with a smile. “I think the first time I ran competitively was fall 1973. I ran for a small high school in Houston, skipped running in college, then in the middle-late 1980s I ran for Tenneco’s corporate national track team (and did the Houston marathon around 1988), then quit running until Gilbert introduced me to the Gazelles in 2011.”

At Gilbert’s urging, Taylor decided to lace up his Mizunos once again. “Gilbert asked me why I was not running with him and my first answer was ‘Gilbert, I ran in high school a very long time ago and now I am a tennis player,’” Taylor explains. “I knew nothing about the Gazelle running group. Once I understood Gilbert wanted me to join his running group, I thought running would help my tennis game. I recall my first workout as if it were yesterday. A Zilker circuit. I must have been sore for three days! After close to a year of running with the Gazelles, the more I ran, the more I needed to recover, so I set tennis aside and kept running.” 

Taylor was drawn to Gilbert’s “enthusiasm, humor, and charm. When I met him as my daughter’s coach, I was very impressed with his coaching style, coaching knowledge, and how he connected with the kids. I immediately introduced myself and asked him, ‘How can I help?’”

That question—how can I help?—is most likely the first thing Gazelles will notice about Taylor (unless you are running with him, especially on the track, in which case you will notice that his teenage speed has followed him to adulthood). In keeping with his giving nature, Taylor was soon helping Gilbert at St. Andrews meets—working with the timing equipment, taking photos, setting up the meets and tearing them down, whatever Coach needed.

As his daughter moved through high school and on to running cross-country at Sewanee University, Taylor’s run workouts continued to coalesce around Gazelles. Now this community anchors Taylor’s running. “I need my running buddies,” he says. “I couldn’t be successful without them.”

“Taylor really shows up for others in running,” says Gazelle Melissa Crockett, a member of Taylor’s Tuesday-Thursday 7am “Friendlies” group. “He often keeps pace with me and others to encourage and coach. I also regularly see him go out of his way to make new Gazelles feel welcome. He’s really a culture-setter, and our group is so much better because he’s in it.”

Taylor is, indeed, a complete running package. His form is impeccable and his grit and endurance, exceptional, perhaps sharpened by his post-collegiate work as a roughneck on offshore wildcat oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Sicily, Greece, Italy, and West Africa. Any drilling operation is inherently dangerous, and wildcat rigs are considered the most dangerous of all. Even though it was many decades ago, working in such a hazardous environment and living to tell the tale casts the demands of Wilke or a time trial in a different light.

This work on drilling rigs provided Taylor with adventure and perspective. “I worked offshore in West Africa when Gilbert was about eight years old,” he recalls. “When Gilbert was 14, I traveled for two weeks through Kenya and Tanzania in a 4-door pickup. Both experiences and locations were only a few hundred miles from Gilbert's home in Burundi. Since I worked and traveled close to his home, I have a very clear picture of how difficult it must have been for him to manage the experiences he went through before he was 21. Very few people could have his early life experience, survive, and become the person he is today.”

Now the owner of his own business in the oil and gas industry, Taylor’s work day revolves around a computer screen instead of an oil platform. In addition to his Gazelle workouts, he consistently makes time for a serious regimen of yoga, pilates, and strength training. “Injuries are my biggest obstacles,” he says. “Now I am spending twice as much time training with strengthening and yoga as I spend running. The extra work allows me to keep running.”

Athletes must always be aware of when to go all in and when to back off. For lifelong runners, finding this balance eventually becomes paramount: balancing workouts with recovery, the memories of younger days with the realities of present challenges, past PRs with new goals. Taylor is no exception, and he charts a steady course through his training, as well as through a life filled with work, play, family, food, and fun. “Be patient with yourself,” he counsels, “be kind to yourself. It is okay to take it easy in all things.”

This perspective on running is, of course, a perspective on life. “We need to cut ourselves some slack,” he says. “I don’t need to be who I was ten years ago. I need to be who I am today.”

Taylor and his medals from the 2018 Senior Games

Taylor and his medals from the 2018 Senior Games

However, this nudge to give yourself a break doesn’t mean giving up. A tempered approach to training has allowed Taylor to remain competitive in the racing that he does do, mainly in the 5K, 800m, 400m distances. “I enjoy all three races for different reasons,” he says. “I run those distances because that is as far as my hip will allow me to run.”

In fact, Taylor has had significant success over the past five years running in the Texas Senior Games, three days of competition in twenty events, including track and field, for athletes who are at least 50 years old. He has qualified for the biennial National Senior Games every year he has competed at the state level. With times this year like 1:07 in 400m, 2:42 in the 800m, 6:23 in the 1500m (which converts to a 6:48 mile), and 21:02 in the 5K,Taylor pretty much drops the hammer on his competition regardless of their age. Asked what he thinks about when the going gets tough, he says, “I focus on form and the finish line. Nothing else matters.”

And if you haven’t met Taylor during a long run or workout, you have probably seen his handiwork when Gazelle race photos are posted. A talented sports photographer with skills honed at his daughter’s high school meets, Taylor takes photos with a runner’s sensibility. If you see Gilbert at the 3M Half Marathon or the Gazelle Foundation Run for the Water, you will most likely see Taylor next to him, behind the camera capturing Gazelles mid-stride, the cheering coach, and often both together.

Taylor Sherwood: ultimate running buddy, stalwart supporter (along with his wife, Beth) of the Gazelle Foundation, coach’s helper, advisor, and friend. “I’m learning to accept who I am every day,” he says wisely, “that is, trying to be just a little more like Gilbert is already.” Would that we could all be a little more like Taylor.

Susan RoweComment