The young South African has severe muscle weakness in her legs and ankles and primarily uses a wheelchair, but that isn’t stopping Taylor Hill from competing in her favourite motorsport.
South Africa (10 March 2023) – Most 15-year-olds are excitedly edging towards a learner’s driving licence – one step closer to the real thing at 18 and a world of perceived freedom in their own wheels, but for Taylor Hill, driving may never be on the cards due to her degenerative nerve disease, luckily “karting” still is!
The young South African was born with a genetic condition, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder (CMT), a degenerative hereditary nerve disease that usually appears in adolescence or early adulthood. This damage is mainly in the arms and legs (peripheral nerves). Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is also called hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy. The disease results in smaller, weaker muscles. Patients may also experience loss of sensation and muscle contractions and difficulty walking. Foot deformities such as hammertoes and high arches also are common. Symptoms usually begin in the feet and legs, but they may eventually affect your hands and arms.
But despite her disabilities, her biggest love and passion is karting and Hill is not letting anything stand in her way. Her father, Leon Hill, nurtured her love for motorsport, and many weekends were spent on kart tracks with her dad and brother by her side, despite her disability.
Proud dad Leon adds that even with her disability, Taylor grew up loving speed and anything exciting.
“She was always keen to try anything – and with great enthusiasm. Taylor has always had a never-give-up attitude and can’t is not a word in her vocabulary,” he says.
“Motorsport means everything to Taylor. It gives her a sense of freedom from her disability when she’s on the track. Driving at speed brings the biggest smile to her face. Taylor has really found purpose in motorsport; she is motivated to live each day to the fullest,” Leon says.
Life is not always easy for Taylor; her disability affects what most people take for granted. The young South African has severe muscle weakness in her legs and ankles and no feeling in her feet. She primarily uses a wheelchair as she has scoliosis and wears a back brace. When standing, Hill needs to wear leg braces.
Taylor’s ambition is to be a professional racing driver one day, so one can easily imagine the family’s delight when Motorsport South Africa (MSA) reached out to Taylor, opening a whole new world of possibilities for the determined teen.
Adrian Scholtz, CEO of MSA, says that MSA found Taylor’s story truly humbling and felt the need to try and support her involvement in the sport wherever possible. This led to Taylor being given the role of ‘Pace Kart’ driver for many of the races for the entry-level junior class of karting. From time to time, fun races have also been arranged with able-bodied moms and sisters on race days and Taylor regularly manages to lap the whole field. Scholtz says, “The participants and crowd are amazed at how well she can drive with her disability. What an inspiration that her ambition is to be a professional racing driver and be fully involved in all aspects of motorsport after leaving school.”
Elaborating on how Taylor navigates her thrill for speed with the physical limitations of her disability, Leon explains that since she has no feeling in her feet and the position of her feet, Taylor relies on hearing and the rev counter for where she is on the throttle and brake.
Unfortunately, Taylor is not racing now due to having broken her arm twice, but she remains an avid karting enthusiast.
“We plan to get Taylor into main circuit driving and, with the added protection, she should be able to race. At the moment, her kart travels to all the away races so she can drive every track in the country, which is truly thrilling for her. With the assistance of MSA, we have also reached out to the Special Olympics and are waiting to hear back from them,” Leon said.
“We are incredibly proud to be part of Taylor’s journey towards fulfilling her dream to compete as a professional race car driver one day. Taylor is proof that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. She certainly is not letting anyone tell her she can’t do what she loves,” says Scholtz.
And the last word comes from Taylor herself.
“I feel very special and privileged to be able to be involved with this sport and want to encourage others with similar disabilities never to give up on their dreams. Your mind is truly your most powerful tool,” says Taylor. And if you are a young girl like Taylor that loves the thrill of the sport, her advice is “to get involved sooner than later. Don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done. I am living testament to following your dreams.”