Ryan Taylor listens to body over desire to keep wrestling for Badgers

After three seasons of pushing through a significant amount of pain, Wisconsin wrestler Ryan Taylor is being forced to call it quits.

Taylor announced Sunday via his Instagram account that his competitive wrestling days are over due to lingering hip issues. The soon-to-be redshirt senior is now faced with the reality that most wrestlers must deal with: the body usually gives up on the sport long before the heart does.

Though the official announcement came just days ago, Taylor and head coach Barry Davis have known for years that the premature end to his career was likely looming.

In his first year on campus, Taylor approached Davis about major hip discomfort. At his coach’s urging, the then-freshman was evaluated by medical staff. Taylor’s hip joints were squaring off and two reconstructive surgeries were in order.

Getting back on the mat required a more measured approach to training.

“Coming in, all I knew was grind, grind, grind and train every day,” Taylor said. “I came in one day and had a meeting with [the coaching staff] and they said, ‘hey, you’re going to work out when we tell you.  If you’re hurt, you tell us and if you’re hurt, you’re done, you’re not wrestling for the day.’ So we had that agreement.”

The season following his surgeries, Taylor posted a 19-6 record for the Badgers at 125 pounds. He placed third at the Big Ten Championships and qualified for the NCAA Championships.

It’s likely no coincidence that Taylor’s strongest season as a Badger came when he was feeling his best.

During the 2014-15 campaign, Taylor attained All-American status by placing seventh at the NCAAs at 133 pounds. He took second at Big Tens and sported a 27-4 record.

But the relative comfort didn’t last.

“I had a span, when I moved up from 125 to 133 that I felt good for a couple months,” Taylor said. “Then it went back downhill again.”

Taylor was sidelined for the first half of last season. In fact, he almost never saw the mat.

“Barry brought me in when we were in Vegas (for the Cliff Keen Invitational) and he almost told me it was done then,” Taylor said. “I told him I didn’t want it to be done. I had to finish out this year.”

Wrestling a carefully calculated schedule, Taylor pushed through last season and finished 12-7 overall. He placed third in the conference tournament, earning his third straight trip to the NCAA Championships.

His season and, ultimately, his career ended after he was pinned by Nebraska’s Eric Montoya in consolation action at the NCAAs.

In March, the dire nature of Taylor’s situation truly set in. His hips continued to deteriorate. As much as he loved wrestling, he had to think big picture.

“I have just gotten to the point where I can’t effectively train for a national title. At this point, it’s not worth it. Someday I want to have kids and I want to be able to help them out with wrestling, baseball or soccer or whatever it is they want to do,” Taylor said. “That’s something that’s very important to me. Wrestling is a big part of my life. It was a lifestyle. But, when it comes down to it, I have to be able to give back in other ways eventually.”

Taylor finished his career as a three-time NCAA qualifier and a 2015 All-American. He collected 58 wins, 18 of which came against ranked opponents. He dropped just 17 bouts and never suffered more than seven defeats in a single season.

“I’m never going to be happy with it. I wanted to win a national title, Taylor said. “For what I had, I think I had a pretty decent career. It’s not something I’d call home about or I’m super happy with. The only thing I ever wanted to do growing up was win a national title and it didn’t happen.”

However, Taylor was quick to add that, had it not been for his coaches, his career could have ended long before he ever wrestled a collegiate match.

“I wouldn’t have accomplished any goals if I had kept training like I did prior to the great coaching of Barry and Kyle (Ruschell) and Trevor (Brandvold),” Taylor said. “They really were smart with my body.”

Taylor gave a special nod to Davis, who regularly limited him to two or three days of practice per week for the bulk of his time in Madison.

“He is more worried about my body later in life than me winning a title and that’s something that I don’t think would have happened anywhere else. I truly believe if I would have went somewhere else in the Big Ten they would have just tried to keep throwing me out there … I think if I would have went somewhere else, I would have been done sooner. Just great coaching is what got me through.”

Looking back on his competitive career, Taylor most values the bonds he formed through wrestling.

“Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to win a national title and be an All-American more than anybody, but it’s the connections, the young kids that look up to me and the clinics I get to do in the summer,” Taylor said. “That kind of stuff is the thing I’m most proud of.”

Taylor estimates he has been in the wrestling room less than a dozen times since his season ended.

“When I go into the room, it really bothers me. If you saw it from an outside perspective, you would think that I was just kind of ready to be done, which is not at all the case. It’s hard for me to go in there and not get on the mat.”

It is his new priority to push past that feeling in order to help his teammates during the upcoming season.

“I think that’s something that I’m going to have to work on this year,” Taylor said. “I can contribute to the team and that is my duty now. They gave me all they had, they kept me on the mat as long as they possibly could and now it’s time to give back.”