Birth of daughter shifts priorities for U’s Taylor

Ryan Schuster

Sometimes fate has a strange way of touching a person’s life.
A year and a half ago, Gophers women’s basketball guard Swantreca Taylor was dealt one of those surprises when she learned she was pregnant with a baby girl. Her pregnancy was even more of a shock because she didn’t find out about it until she was four and a half months along.
But what could have been a disaster for a single college student used to her independence has instead turned out to be an inspiration to Taylor.
“I strongly feel in my heart that she is my guardian angel,” she said. “Whenever anything goes wrong, or I have the least bit of stress or disbelief about being on the team or in college and think about quitting, it’s her that makes me want to stay here, and it’s her that makes me want to strive even harder to prove to other people that I deserve to be here.”
Taylor received a medical redshirt last season after the birth of her daughter, Deja, on January 9.
While Taylor has had a long rehabilitation period and hasn’t received much playing time this year, she refuses to think that she’s any different than any of the other players on the court.
“When I get on the court I don’t say, `Oh, I’m a mother and things are different for me,'” Taylor said. “I don’t see it that way. I’m a parent. Some people may have other problems. I’m not any better than anyone else. (Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn’s) not lenient on me just because I have a child, and I don’t want her to be.”
The 21-year-old has played in only four games all year and didn’t receive any playing time over the weekend. She is averaging 0.3 points per game and has an assist and two turnovers in 15 minutes of play.
After Deja’s birth, she missed almost an entire year of playing competitive basketball because of the pregnancy and several other ailments before returning to the team this season.
Taylor had surgery for an umbilical hernia in her stomach in June and didn’t start working out again until mid-July. The hernia was caused by the stretching of Taylor’s stomach while she was pregnant.
She also had surgery for a broken bone in her right knee in October, the same knee that forced her to miss 19 games with a torn a posterior cruciate ligament during her sophomore year.
If anything has become evident about Taylor in the last couple of years, it is her perseverance.
Many of Taylor’s friends and teammates urged her to take time off from school during her pregnancy, and she even had to sneak around behind her mother’s back to keep going to class. But Taylor never made a big deal about her situation.
She continued going to school throughout her pregnancy and only missed one day of class after giving birth.
“I had Deja on a Thursday and I was in class Monday morning,” Taylor said. “My professors were like, `What are you doing here?’ I can’t just take six weeks off of class.”
Taylor, who has sole custody of Deja, lives alone with her daughter. She is still seeing the baby’s father, but the couple has no plans of getting married anytime soon. She has more important things to think about — like her daughter.
“I’m not going to school for myself anymore,” Taylor said. “I’m going to school for my daughter. I have to support her. I have to get a career because of her.”
The pressures of going to school, playing basketball and being a single mother have complicated Taylor’s already busy life.
“When I first had her, one night she just cried all through the night,” Taylor said. “I’ve never been so stressed out that I just wanted to break down and cry, but there were some times when (teammates) Sarah (Klun), Angie (Iverson) or Lynda (Hass) would just come get Deja for a couple of hours so I could study or just to give me a break.”
Many of Taylor’s teammates have eased her burden by accepting Deja as part of the team and even treating her as their own daughter.
“We’ve all kind of adopted her,” junior forward Mindy Hansen said. “Deja has a lot of aunts.”
Teammates Sonja Robinson and Klun are Deja’s godmothers and former Gophers football players Crawford Jordan and Ryan Thelwell are her godfathers.
Still, it doesn’t ease all the burden.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Taylor is up by 7:30 a.m., drops Deja off with a friend, goes to class and practice and usually doesn’t get home until 7 or 7:30 at night.
“It’s probably wearing on her,” Robinson said. “Swan does a great job. I couldn’t do it.”
Taylor sings the black national anthem to Deja every night to calm her down and get her to go to sleep. Her teammates used to rib her about singing the song to her daughter until they were in a car together on a long trip and Deja started crying uncontrollably. Taylor started singing the song and Deja stopped crying immediately.
Dealing with situations like that one have made Taylor appreciate the difficulty of being a single mother. She said she wants to help teenage mothers deal with what she has gone through, which is part of the reason she changed her major from nursing to family social science. Taylor expects to graduate in spring 1999.
Deja has also had a soothing effect on her mother.
“Whenever I’m down, I’ll just look at her and she’ll smile and that will give me the extra energy to do what I have to do,” Taylor said.
Her teammates have also seen a difference in Taylor this season.
“It’s like she has an extra dimension to her life now that she has Deja,” Hansen said. “She is a lot more responsible. She gives everything she has to Deja.”