May 13, 2009
By Scott Eisen
Simon Taylor has dreamed of living in the United States since he was 11 years old. Growing up in Hamilton, New Zealand, Taylor found rowing to be his ticket out of the country and a city he describes as a "boring place."
With his high-school crew finding success that it hadn't in a very long time, Taylor eventually made the New Zealand junior national team. It was at the Junior World Championships that year when American coaches first noticed Taylor, including coaches from the University of Washington.
Taylor saw the fruits of his labor paying off after helping lead his team to a fifth-place finish in the championship, and his dream of coming to the United States looked to become a reality. Recruited by the UW, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley, among others, Taylor chose to be a Husky because of the coaches leading the program.
"The coaches over here are more of what I'm used to," Taylor said.
With his parents backing his decision, Taylor made his way to Seattle without knowing anybody who lived in the United States.
The rigor of UW classes came as a surprise to the New Zealander, who was used to a more laid-back academic atmosphere.
"It was stressful, but I was living my dream and having a good time," Taylor said. "But it was definitely a culture shock."
Thanks to technology like Skype and Facebook, Taylor stays in contact with family and friends back home, but he only gets to see them a few weeks a year during Christmas break.
Taylor excelled despite dealing with a brand-new world and sat in the important stroke seat his freshman year, leading the first freshman eight to a bronze medal in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships.
Following that season, he got the rare opportunity to row on the varsity team when the Huskies were invited to Russia for the Moscow Race of Champions, capping their incredible season with a gold-medal victory over top international competition. To this day, that is Taylor's fondest memory as a Husky.
"I had a blast for a few days," Taylor said. "It was just a great experience to go to Russia and win."
Now, as a junior, Taylor is rowing in the seven seat in the No. 2 UW men's varsity eight. Following a disappointing IRA championships last season, where the Huskies finished in second place after going undefeated during the regular season, Taylor is positive the team has moved on and is ready to take the next step.
"We know that we lost last year," he said. "But every day is a new day. It's a new year and a new crew, so we keep working hard."
As for his future, Taylor seems to know exactly what he is going to do, even if it may not be what some people want to hear. He also has a difficult decision to make: Due to his visa status, it would be difficult for him to return to the United States if he goes back to New Zealand to train for the 2012 Olympics.
"It's really one or the other," he said. "Do I want to row for New Zealand on the Olympic team, or do I want to stay here? I really like being here, and I'd rather be here than be on the Olympic team."