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Undeterred by dyslexia, Weber State’s Laura Taylor nears graduation with honors

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Feb 17, 2023
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Weber State shooting guard Laura Taylor (0) gestures as she runs back on defense in a game during the 2021-22 season at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.
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Weber State guard Laura Taylor, left, defends during a game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.
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Weber State's Laura Taylor, right, defends during a game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

Laura Taylor remembers a time in her youth when she realized she couldn’t read menus at restaurants and when words on a newspaper page seemed to gob together.

The ends of school days in Ballarat, Australia, were often frustrating.

“I remember all the years coming home from primary school thinking I’m the dumbest kid,” Taylor said.

A decade later, she’s collected one college degree, is on the verge of another and is hopeful to add a third when her days playing basketball at Weber State are done.

“She’s a worker,” WSU head coach Velaida Harris said. “She’s determined to get it right, that’s who she is as a human.”

After years of struggling, then planning, then persevering with the learning condition dyslexia, Taylor recently received some incredible news: When she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in professional sales this spring, she will do so with an “honors” designation — one in a small group of graduates campuswide to earn such a distinction.

“We celebrated it as a team when we found out,” Harris said. “A young lady who’s dyslexic works her butt off to maintain a GPA that allows her to be one of a handful of kids who are up for honors. That’s awesome.”

By the time Taylor arrived at Weber State from Northwest Florida State College, that was almost her expectation.

“I didn’t know what a GPA was; we didn’t have that in Australia. So I asked how to get a 4.0 and I was like, ‘OK, I can do that,'” Taylor said. “When I started getting a feel for college, understanding what professors wanted, the expectations, the rubric, I was like, ‘Let’s see how long I can make this last.’ And now I don’t want anything less.”

It’s been a long journey to this point.

Taylor and her parents knew something was off with her ability to learn, but tests to that end didn’t reveal anything specific even though she was reading at least three grades below her age level.

Finally, her homeroom teacher suspected Taylor had dyslexia when she was 14 years old and suggested an official, rigorous exam to know for sure. Taylor went 1 1/2 hours to Melbourne and she spent an entire day doing tests, interviews and more.

“Before I walked in there, I remember just not wanting to say anything. ‘I don’t want to be here, I’m not a guinea pig,'” Taylor said. “But I remember the lady just saying, ‘So you have dyslexia.’ … Having her say that, you have dyslexia, it was diagnosed, it kind of felt like a relief. It sounds weird to say but there was finally an answer.”

Dyslexia is a learning disability where the brain experiences problems identifying the separate speech sounds within a word, learning how letters represent those sounds and identifying those things while reading, according to the International Dyslexia Association.

Because dyslexia makes reading a monumental-to-impossible task, academic success is often difficult in traditional learning environments.

Taylor remembers preparing for final exams to exit “year 12,” or what Americans call a senior year of high school. She sat with an English teacher reviewing an essay she attempted “probably seven times,” she says, and she couldn’t get it right.

As part of a final test, she had to read a document and answer questions about it in 15 minutes. She tried breaking up words by using a spare piece of paper to block sections of the page, but it took too long.

She applied for special consideration to get more time but said she tested as too intelligent to qualify for it.

“That was disheartening. That took its toll when you need that extra time but you can’t get it,” Taylor said.

But one thing Taylor has come to embrace and now shares with others is that, as the IDA says, “dyslexia is not due to either lack of intelligence or desire to learn.”

Taylor says she completed grade-level work but it took her exponentially more time. She credits her parents with helping her implement processes to help her understand her studies. But as a result, she didn’t complete the kinds of credits that would get her admission to a Division I college in the United States so she could play basketball.

That’s when she learned about junior college, and her academic success began to take off with the structures and resources provided to students with disabilities. She could meet with professors, receive lecture slides ahead of time, get additional accommodations for testing and more.

And, her Northwest Florida State College team went 24-2 her sophomore year. She shot 36.2% from the 3-point line and embraced a bench role as the Raiders won the NJCAA national championship.

She got on the radar of Weber State coaches and joined the team for the 2021-22 season with an associate degree in hand.

As of Friday, Taylor has made 46 3-pointers this season, which is nearly half of Weber State’s 101 makes from downtown.

“She’s been great for us in terms of bringing a team-player attitude,” Harris said. “She knows what it takes and why it’s important to be a good teammate. She’s been a really good addition.”

Harris said sometimes Taylor’s dyslexia will mean verbal instruction is less effective, but “if she gets that opportunity to watch it, she’ll get it.” When it comes time to work in the weight room or on the court, that type of effort is not a hurdle to someone of Taylor’s ethic.

Taylor said the academic support at Weber State has been phenomenal. She has a computer program that converts her textbooks to speech, and she can upload her own documents to be read back to her.

Between the resources and the people along the way, Taylor said she feels grateful.

“I would not be the person I am without the support that I’ve had,” she said. “The growth I’ve had from when I was diagnosed until now, I’m a completely different person. The people around you really do shape who you are.”

College coursework is still a rigorous, time-consuming process but Taylor said she’s used to it and accounts for her time accordingly.

“Being a student-athlete isn’t easy. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be hard,” Taylor said. “Travel, scout, practice, meal prep, homework, sleep, study hall, class — it is hard. But it makes it worth it when you finish four years playing the game you absolutely love and then you get a degree at the end of it and set your life up.

“When we’re at practice, other people are at a 9-to-5 job. We need to really be grateful for what we have because a lot of people do not have it.”

With the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor plans to return to Weber State for her fifth year of college basketball and has sights on completing a Master of Professional Communication degree.

Bachelor’s with honors and a master’s degree, too? Not bad for someone who once stared at a test document, words swimming together, and didn’t know if college was even a possibility. Now she’s found the tools and the determination to excel.

“To have dyslexia on top of it is pretty amazing, to go through the challenges I have and be able to walk out the other side knowing I have a possible three degrees and I’ve finished five years of college basketball,” Taylor said.


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