This Joburg teen can't walk – but that hasn't stopped her from becoming a motorsport driver

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Taylor Hill in her customised kart. She uses her hands to operate the kart, instead of her feet. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Taylor Hill in her customised kart. She uses her hands to operate the kart, instead of her feet. (PHOTO: Supplied)

She uses a wheelchair to get around, is unable to use her legs and has no sensation in her feet. Yet Taylor Hill isn't letting her disability get in the way of becoming a professional motorsport driver – and she's well on track to achieving her dream.

Motorsport South Africa (MSA) recently announced that the 15-year-old from Joburg has been selected as a pace kart driver to set the speed for younger drivers.

“The participants and crowd are amazed by how well she can drive with her disability," says Adrian Scholtz, CEO of MSA.

Taylor suffers from a rare genetic condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT).

CMT damages the nerves that transmit information and signals from the brain and spinal cord. Over time the affected nerves slowly degenerate, resulting in muscle weakness and numbness. 

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Taylor has no sensation in her legs and feet and races in a customised kart that allows her to use her hands to operate the kart instead of her feet.

“I drive with a hearing aid because I have no feeling or sensation in my feet and I listen to the engine to hear where I am on the throttle. My feet are always at a 90-degree angle because of my leg braces and I use my knees to brake,” she says.

Racing is a thrill like no other.

"It’s very nice to because I'm not limited, it's like my freedom," she says.

"It's the only time I get to feel like a normal kid. When I feel like I can be myself because you don't have to walk, run or balance.” 

Taylor Hill
The teenage go-kart driver practises on the track twice a week. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Taylor takes to the track twice a week in her red kart, kitted out a glittery pink helmet and gloves while her father, Leon (45), and brother, Luke (12), proudly look on.

She was introduced to the sport by Leon, a director of a steel company, when he took her to a motorsport event when she was younger. When she was eight, he bought her first kart. 

Her dad says she's 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,” Leon says.  

"Motorsport means everything to her. It gives her a sense of being free from her disability when she’s on the track."

Taylor Hill
Despite her disability, Taylor is going full speed ahead to become a professional driver. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Though she's found her stride in the sport, getting to grips with her condition was a rollercoaster for Leon and his wife, Simone.

The couple noticed something was amiss when Taylor was four months old. Unlike other babies her age, she could only roll onto one side.

“It took us nine years to find out what was wrong, not knowing what it was or how to treat it," he says.

She was eventually diagnosed with CMT through an American genetic company and sent to local specialists for treatment.

"She goes for physio and occupational therapy twice a week to keep her in top condition so she can drive two to three times a week for fitness,” he says.

Leon admits that the sport doesn't come cheap – customising her kart and kitting her out in protective gear has cost about R200 000 – but it's a small price to pay for his daughter's happiness.

"Driving at speed brings the biggest smile to her face. She's really found purpose in motorsport, she's motivated to live each day to the fullest." 

Taylor is inspired by F1 driver Ralf Schumacher and British racing driver Nathalie McGloin.

Nathalie has a spinal-cord injury and races a hand-controlled Porsche Cayman. In 2015 she became the first female with a spinal injury to be granted a racing licence in the UK and is currently the only female tetraplegic racing driver in the world.

The Joburg teen was so inspired by her story that her dad helped her reach out to Nathalie.

Nathalie has given her pointers on driving and even suggested that they meet in person in the UK where she'll take her for a spin in an adapted car.

“It's just to see if I like it,” she says. 

Taylor Hill
She's inspired by F1 driver Ralf Schumacher and British racing driver Nathalie McGloin. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Taylor is on a break from racing while she nurses a broken arm but she can't wait to burn rubber again.

"I'm unable to compete because I broke my arm twice while racing and with me everything is so much more effort. When you have a cast, it is so much harder to function,” she says. 

“But I still practise and when I'm able to race again I'll be more protected.” 

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Taylor Hill
Her pink helmet, protective gear and specialised cart cost about R200 000. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Her father is in awe of her never-say-die attitude.

“She really is inspirational, she doesn't give up and loves action sports. She does jet skiing, flies in planes, goes on boats and loves anything to do with speed," he says.

“A lot of kids in these sorts of conditions can sit back feeling sorry for themselves but she's not. She's a bundle of joy every single day of her life." 

Extra source: Motorsports SA 

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