A rising star on the Canadian gymnastic Olympic team, Taylor Lindsay-Noel, suffered a horrifying training accident that paralyzed her from the neck down in 2008. She was 14 at the time.

“I was getting to re-write my narrative — divorcing an identity — only, a lot earlier. I grew up really fast, and earlier. Most people learn by the time they are adults that things can change suddenly. I found out early.”

Resilient beyond words, Lindsay-Noel went to college majoring in radio and television arts and began a podcast called “Tea Time with Tay.” She followed her obsession with tea by founding a tea company. It’s one thing to be a quadriplegic starting a new business but when it’s good enough to be noticed by Oprah Winfrey, you have arrived. Oprah has put Taylor’s Cup of Té gift sets on her Holiday list of her Favorite Things for 2020.

But Lindsay-Noel isn’t just an entrepreneur. With every sale of her Cup of Té starter kit, she donates $1 to mental health causes, including CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Suicide Prevention.

Lindsay Noel via The Star:

“There’s life after tragedy. I’m hoping to break other glass ceilings. I’m a female, Black, disabled, small business owner… and I’m still here. NO is not a real word in the capacity of your life.”

This is a story of triumph over tragedy — a counter-narrative to the drumbeat of COVID-damned dispatches that infect our lives.

For Star readers, it began in 2008 with the ugly, painful introduction to Taylor Lindsay-Noel, a 14-year-old elite gymnast on track to represent Canada at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Taylor broke her neck while attempting an extremely difficult and dangerous manoeuvre at the Seneca College practice gym. And readers tried and failed to keep the tears from mingling with their breakfast that August morning when the story ran.

“What am I going to do?” Taylor asked her single mom, Rowena, from her bed at Bloorview Rehab Centre, the Star present. A quadriplegic, immobilized from the neck down, broke many hearts that day, under the headline: “Paralyzed gymnast waits for miracle.”

“Say a prayer for Taylor,” the story began. Many of you did.

Twelve years later, Taylor is off the mat and into the pages of O magazine’s December issue as an entrepreneur whose fledgling organic loose leaf tea company received a boost like no other — inclusion in the list of Oprah Winfrey’s Favourite Things.

The miracle first served notice last July 15, the anniversary date of Taylor’s accident and always “the hardest day of the year for me,” she told the Star on Thursday.

For months she’d been asking God for a sign — “I needed a massive sign; really, I needed a billboard” — anything to signal a future for Cup of Te, a high-end luxury organic tea company she launched online in 2018.

She’d been thinking that the coronavirus pandemic provided her the perfect excuse for failure. She didn’t know then that the pandemic created a market for consumers hungry to have luxurious items delivered to their homes. Neither did she anticipate the rise of Black Lives Matter and the desire to “Buy Black,” especially from Black businesses that can deliver quality through discerning products.

Taylor opened her email July 15 to a request to send a sampling of her products for testing to compete with hundreds of products vying for inclusion on Oprah’s list.

“I thought it was spam. I deleted it,” Taylor said.

But just in case, she thought, why not research the name on the email. Sure enough it was real and overnight she was sending the products to Oprah’s mansion in Santa Barbara and to Gayle King, the megastar’s friend.

Last month, Cup of Te was confirmed. It now has the midas touch, pushed out on Amazon, which is what happens when Oprah puts her stamp of approval on a product.

“I said, ‘OK, God, I hear you.’ ”

On Thursday, at her mom’s well-appointed North York home, equipped with elevator and amenities to ease Taylor’s daily living, we find a balanced, brilliant young woman … sitting in her wheelchair, poised, positive to the point of evoking tears.

“I think I’m living my best life,” she said, mom chirping away in agreement. “I feel happy where I am. Genuinely, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

You want to say, “C’mon, Taylor, be real.” You were a straight-A student jock on track to being an Olympic athlete, with medals and future glory and fame. That came crashing down on the practice floor and it was lights out. You lost it all.

“Nineteen months of rehab landed you back at your high school, but everything had changed. You thought you’d never date again, find love, marry, have children or wear high heels like other teenagers. And now you sit there, highlights in your hair, a smile as perfect as a warm November day, and say:

“Life hit me hard at 14, but it’s OK. I want people to know there’s so much to life after a tragedy.”

Taylor Lindsay-Noel threw herself into rehab at the top-notch facility that is Bloorview Kids Rehab. She figured she’d pivot from competitive gymnastics to a normal life, maybe even a cheerleader. “I was naive, delusional,” she admitted. Six months in, reality began to set in, but she pushed back.

“They were fitting me for a wheelchair and I was saying to myself, ‘What are you doing? I’m going to walk again.’ In my mind, I was still cocky, thinking, ‘You are spending thousands of dollars on this wheelchair that I’m going to give away next year. You don’t know my resilience.’ ”

She didn’t walk out of Bloorview. And “they wanted to put me into a home and a school for the disabled.” Her mom would have none of it.

Rowena Lindsay’s life was shattered when Taylor fell. She left her job at the City of Toronto to fasten herself at Taylor’s side. And when friends or family relieved her for a few hours she plunged into the task of building a house suitable for a quadriplegic.

She had bought an overgrown lot near Finch and Yonge. Building on it required money she did not have. She wrote letters, pleaded with suppliers and corporations and individual donors. Star readers had donated to fundraising efforts, including an anonymous donation of $10,000.

Rowena would go from all day at Bloorview to hours haggling with workmen, many moments screaming at her fate, then take time out to calm her spirits, meditate and pray before rejoining her daughter.

“My daughter needs to come home from the hospital, God. You are going to have to come through for us,” was a frequent prayer.

Prayers answered, Taylor returned to Northview Secondary, but everything had changed. For someone who says, “I’m a big, big, pivot-er,” this was the first of many to come. The jock discovered a world existed outside of sports. By her final year she was the student council president.

“In high school it was very difficult to watch my friends take off and grow. I took up poetry and writing saved me from myself. I pivoted from dark poetry to writing about love.

“I thought I would never date. I believed someone would not see me without seeing the wheelchair first. I was confident in what I wanted in a partner, but I’m not a damsel in distress. Don’t expect to come in as Captain Saviour.”

University followed — at Ryerson where she studied radio and television arts, thinking she might one day be an entertainment reporter. But internships cured her of that idea — the sheer daily grind of the industry, and the impact on her disability.

She started pivoting again.

Removed from her identity as an elite athlete, Taylor said she was forced to find out who the real Taylor was — much the way professional athletes encounter an identity crisis after their playing days are over and the roar of the crowd disappears.

“I was getting to re-write my narrative — divorcing an identity — only, a lot earlier. I grew up really fast, and earlier. Most people learn by the time they are adults that things can change suddenly. I found out early.”

Taylor has full to partial paralysis in all four limbs. She has no fine motor skills in her fingers, but she’s able to move her limbs a bit and “learned to do my own makeup three years ago — something that’s liberating as a woman.”

Physio is a big part of her life. “I’m still of the belief that science will change my outlook so I keep my body ready for the medical advancement” that might come. “I believe I will one day walk.”

And that dating stuff? She’s had more relationships than she imagined.

“But I don’t have time to waste in a 10-year relationship that’s going nowhere,” she said. “There’s love and there’s logic. It has to make sense. I’m not gonna settle just because I’m in a wheelchair. I’ll break off the relationship if you don’t have the motivation in life. A lot of people are afraid to start over in life; not me.”

After graduating from Ryerson, four years on the dean’s list, winning awards, Taylor and mom travelled, then she started casting her net for a career — something that could create generational wealth and also satisfy her curiosity and creativity.

She used her online skills to complete some drop shipping, did radio voiceover for some products and started a podcast called “Tea Time with Tay,” essentially, conversations with influencers over tea.

Over 24 episodes Taylor constantly pushed teas by David’s Tea, hoping the popular company would become a sponsor. It didn’t, so Lindsay-Noel created her own blend of tea and started promoting that on the podcast.

“It was like, ‘OK, David’s Tea. I see you. You don’t see me.’”

The seeds of her new business were planted, but she knew nothing about the industry and about running a business.

“I Googled how to find accessories for teas. I Googled how to find tea wholesalers. I googled and YouTubed my way to a business. The only thing I knew was how to design the website and design the packaging and the creative stuff,” she said.

“Start your day, with a cup of Te” began to find resonance. Te translates well in several languages and fits the pronunciation in some high-brow British circles. And it’s short for Tay-lor. The product — with the aim of producing the world’s finest loose leaf organic teas and teaware at fair prices — comes in stylish packaging, elegantly presented.

And it’s ready for the Christmas season orders — if the stacks of boxes and bags of teas around the Lindsay house is any indication.

One dollar from each starter tea kit will go to mental health advocacy, including CAMH, because, Lindsay-Noel said, mental health stigma is still way too stubbornly held in the Black community.

In that, she is giving back with a than

Every time we meet this special human being we are moved to tears and awe and wonder. We benefit from her journey.

“My story demonstrates the power of community and what can happen when people are supported by the love of friends, family and strangers,” Taylor said.

“There’s life after tragedy. I’m hoping to break other glass ceilings. I’m a female, Black, disabled, small business owner … and I’m still here. NO is not a real word in the capacity of your life.”

What you’ve seen from Taylor so far is “just one of the things I have planned for my life. I have been through hell. If I can get through that, everything else is easy.

“The journey of getting to know this new person, and being just Taylor, was difficult but necessary. Now, I feel confident that I will, metaphorically speaking, land on my feet.”

Meet Taylor Lindsay-Noel at www.cupofte.ca.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star