Skip to main content

While her teammate Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and other Olympians were competing on the other side of the world in Beijing earlier this month, Taylor Lindsay-Noel was learning to ask her mother to scratch her ear when she got an itch.

The 14-year-old Toronto teenager, an elite-level gymnast considered a top prospect for the 2012 Olympics in London, broke her neck on July 15 in a training accident that has received remarkably little attention.

Now at Bloorview Kids Rehab in Toronto, the pretty girl, who is also an accomplished pianist and excellent student at Northview Heights Collegiate Institute, remains paralyzed. She has no feeling in her legs and only slight sensation in her hands, and wears a halo neck brace to keep her spine immobile.

Ms. Hopfner-Hibbs and rising star Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee were both in the gymnasium at Seneca College when the accident occurred, apparently while Taylor was attempting a complex new dismount off the uneven parallel bars.

"I was breathing fine," she said of the accident aftermath, "but I was crying, and kind of scared."

Though she is optimistic she will walk again despite the doctors' prognosis, there seems little question that Taylor's Olympic dream, the one she has spent most of her life chasing and which is evident in the Beijing paraphernalia in the room - a string of red Chinese lanterns, miniatures of the fuwa, or mascots, and a red banner with a Chinese character on it - is out of reach.

What is worse, says her mother Rowena Lindsay, is that while her daughter's fellow gymnasts have been frequent and loyal visitors while at Toronto Sick Children's Hospital, where she underwent two surgeries on her shattered spinal column, the gymnastics bureaucracy has all but abandoned her.

"It's almost like my kid has disappeared off the face of the Earth," Ms. Lindsay told The Globe and Mail yesterday in an interview in her daughter's room at Bloorview.

Dale Orlando, a Toronto personal-injury lawyer whose firm is now conducting "a thorough liability investigation" for the family and who anticipates being able to commence litigation within weeks, described the reaction to Taylor's accident as "a deafening silence."

Mr. Orlando has informed Seneca that he is seeking a copy of the video made of Taylor's training the day the accident occurred. He told The Globethat an associate who has seen it reports that while it shows the teenager doing her dismount - leaving the high bar and travelling through the air - it doesn't show the landing.

"I know people get injured," Mr. Orlando said. "There is some risk with the sport, but there's an obligation to make sure it's done as safely as possible. ...We're looking at equipment, supervision, spotting and coaching."

Gymnastics Ontario posted only a brief announcement on its website about Taylor's surgery in mid-August. It doesn't appear to be available on the site any longer, though a cached version says only that the teen "underwent surgery" and is "now recovering."

Indeed, the federation's technical director, Kellie Hinnells, yesterday told The Globe in a telephone interview that, "It's not our business...we're not making any comment. We don't wish to discuss it, particularly with the media."

The federation's announcement prompted a brief discussion on a gymnastics online forum, where one person noted that there was no information about the nature of Taylor's accident, and said "the lack of information appears to be more for protecting the sport than the family."

Another poster said that Ms. Lindsay had repeatedly requested privacy and urged that "out of respect for Taylor, please refrain from using this to fuel any type of attack on what you feel is wrong with the sport of gymnastics," but Ms. Lindsay said she never made such a request.

A single parent who works in human resources for the City of Toronto, Ms. Lindsay has spent every day since the accident with her only child, sleeping in a lounge chair by her bed.

She is bewildered and furious by the way the matter has been handled by the provincial federation and Gymnastics Canada.

"This is a girl who was right up there," she said, "on track for 2012." Only another gymnastics injury, a broken right knee, kept her daughter off the national team this year, Ms. Lindsay said.

"When they get injured, they're kicked off the team and have to earn their way back," she said. "That's what happened to Taylor; she wasn't fully recovered in time for nationals."

So profound is the silence around the accident that one of Ms. Lindsay's friends, who has set up an account to help the family with additional expenses such as massages, has been unable to raise any money because, Ms. Lindsay said, "No one has heard anything about it."

Mother and daughter watched the Olympic competition, which saw Ms. Hopfner-Hibbs finish 16th, from Taylor's bedside. While Ms. Lindsay said wistfully that "a shout-out" from either her daughter's teammate or Ms. Hopfner-Hibbs's coach, Carol-Angela Orchard, "would have been nice," she said that the gymnast probably didn't realize how serious the injury was.

But the fact that Ms. Orchard is a former CBC commentator, and Christine Lee is the daughter of Toronto Sun publisher Kin-Man Lee, makes the lack of press attention particularly mystifying to her.

Ms. Lindsay's makeshift bed at Bloorview is covered with testimonials to her daughter - certificates of merit, her latest report card, a citation for her 94-per-cent mark in English and mathematics - and on a laptop was playing a lengthy video clip of Taylor flying through the air in training, providing a startling contrast to the quiet girl in the wheelchair.

From the age of about 4, when she watched Olympics gymnastics and told her mother she wanted to do that, Taylor was a student at the Sport Seneca Club, for three decades a unique arrangement between the Toronto District School Board and Seneca College. Until they reached high-school age, students trained and attended classes on the campus; once in Grade 9, they went to Northview Heights, where Taylor was to enter Grade 10 this fall, in its academic program for gifted athletes.

Though the club disbanded earlier this summer, Ms. Hopfner-Hibbs, then preparing for Beijing, Christine and Taylor continued to train there under Ms. Orchard and coach Dave McVey.

Calls to Slava Corn, the Sport Seneca director, weren't returned yesterday.

Taylor said that when her gymnast friends come to visit - Christine has been a devoted visitor - they don't seem more afraid because of her accident. "We talk about everything but that," she said.

"It's the parents who talk," her mother said.

"I want the public to be aware of the risks associated with gymnastics," she said. "I want Gymnastics Ontario and Gymnastics Canada to take responsibility for what happens when gymnasts are injured or have their careers ended."

She said the accident is "life-altering, for her and for me. It's a damn disaster."

Anyone wanting to help the family can donate to CIBC, transit number 07312, account number 77 591 85.