Photo by Chung Chow
The Jack Taunton story is one of courage and conviction, of overcoming obstacles, and making a difference. His induction Sept. 29 to the Richmond Sports Wall of Fame in the category of Special Achievement celebrates a love of athletics with pioneering the field of sports medicine.
Recognized as one of the world’s leading and most respected sport medicine practitioners, Taunton spent 40 years as a physician, researcher and educator. Today, the fruits of his labour are being employed throughout the athletic world.
“Jack Taunton’s selection to the Richmond Sports Wall of Fame is a much-deserved honour and recognition of the importance of sport science and medicine,” says Lawrie Johns, a longtime Richmond resident and Basketball BC executive director. “Jack’s national and international accomplishments are well documented. He is simply a leader, and that leadership has enabled sports administrators, coaches and athletes at the local level to understand the importance of proper training, preventative skill development and rehabilitative exercises based on the best scientific research.
“ We in Richmond, and throughout our province and country, are privileged to be a recipient of Jack’s extraordinary work and career,” continues Johns, a proud Richmond parent of former Canadian Olympic swimmer Brian Johns.
Now 71, Taunton has had to endure numerous challenges on the path to fulfilling his mission which is far from complete. Despite often debilitating pain, he continues to works tirelessly to build on a legacy of groundbreaking work.
Born with a cardiac condition that ultimately led to his needing open heart surgery in 2000, Taunton contracted the paralytic polio virus when he was only five years old. He has also undergone seven major spine surgeries, yet—reflecting the fact he is himself an athlete of considerable accomplishment—has still been able to finish 63 marathons while running more than 120,000 miles. That is the equivalent of circumnavigating the earth nearly five times.
Most of those miles were run on the dykes and tracks of Richmond, says Taunton, where he resided with his wife Cheryl for nearly 30 years. It’s where the couple raised their two daughters.
The entire family was actively involved in sports, with eldest daughter Kristen going on to play for the Canadian women’s field hockey team at many international competitions. Carla was an equally accomplished athlete, with both also playing high level soccer while in high school. As adults both earned doctorates—Kristen became an orthopedic surgeon and Carla a professor of art history and critical studies.
Both mom and dad (as a father and doctor) were often on the sidelines at Kristen and Carla’s games, always a constant source of inspiration.
It’s the power of positive thinking, coupled with determination and extraordinary vision, that has enabled Taunton to carry out his efforts. At the same time, he’s quick to credit his wife Cheryl without whom, he insists, nothing he’s achieved would have been possible.
The couple met as student-athletes at Simon Fraser University—Jack in football (he played in the first Shrum Bowl between SFU and UBC) and Cheryl in basketball, starring for the women’s team. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
Jack Taunton studied math and history at Simon Fraser University, and in addition to playing football also represented the Clan in soccer and distance running. His interest in athletic performance inspired him to enrol in the newly-introduced kinesiology program of which he was one of only six students.
He then found his way to medical school at UBC, where he excelled. As a student, he carried out a research project at Vancouver General Hospital on the use of hyperbaric oxygen.
FUTURE FORGED AS A KAJAK
Being an ardent runner, it was little surprise that Taunton found his way to the Richmond Kajaks Track and Field Club. There he met Dr. Doug Clement, who along with his wife Diane, founded the club in 1961. Jack and Doug would forge a close friendship that continues to this day.
“Jack first came to Kajaks as a student from SFU to train with our running group,” recalls Doug.
“Notable immediately was his exceptional ability to optimize his ability with a ferocious drive and determination. This trait still exists today. His tremendous focus to maximize each and every challenge has propelled him to an outstanding career as a father, friend, physician and teacher.”
Taunton and Clement have established many partnerships through the years, starting with a family practice on Gilbert Road in Richmond. They then opened the first referral-only sports medicine clinic, and launched the Terra Nova Sports Medicine Clinic which was moved to UBC in 1979 to become the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre—the first integrated sports medicine centre in Canada.
“We saw so many Richmond athletes in the clinic including Ron Putzi from Richmond High, and Tom Howard and Lynn Kanaka from the Kajaks,” said Taunton.
LAUDED AS CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER
One of Taunton’s most recognized, and lauded, efforts was as the chief medical officer for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympics in Vancouver. As head of anti-doping, he was very involved in establishing the lab on the first floor of the Richmond Olympic Oval. His work during the Games has been called the best ever, and he has been asked many times since to share his methods.
Taunton also raised $7.2 million for medical services for the 2010 Games.
“Our budget just wasn’t enough,” he explained. “(And) we had H1N1 (influenza) and had to vaccinate all those people.”
Four years before at the Torino Games, Taunton had outlined his plans for the Vancouver Games which included “Things that they never had before like an orthopedic clinic. It’s why they later said we put on the best Games ever.”
This December, the International Olympic Committee has invited Taunton to Switzerland to share his methodology with medical officers.
“The medical needs at Games are often the last thing they think of (but critical in importance),” Taunton said.
WORK NOT DONE
These days, Taunton’s focus is on several projects including a fundraiser for Uganda that is clearly close to his heart.
“Three years ago we teamed with a similar clinic to us in Victoria called Rebalance,” he explains. “I had worked with one of their orthopedic surgeons there, who is originally from Zimbabwe, and who had gone back to open some clinics (after clinics were burned down during civil strife). So they were looking for a safe place in Uganda, and we opened a small rehab hospital in Kampala called CoRSU.”
As part of extensive bucket list, Taunton is also now raising funds to study people dealing with, among other challenges, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and depression; particularly those athletes with ongoing problems associated with concussions.
He’s also preparing for Vancouver Showcase 2018 Nov. 18 to 24 at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre featuring four men’s and eight women’s Division 1 college basketball teams. This will be the third year in a row he’s been involved in organizing a sport medicine clinic for all the medical personnel.
And as if that’s enough, he’s also gearing up for the next summer’s Poco Grand Prix cycling event.
During a career that has spanned several decades, and featured many highlights, Taunton looks back at them fondly. They include being the team doctor at every practice with Canada’s men’s basketball team (captained by future NBA star Steve Nash of Victoria) at Riverport Park in Richmond, before he and the team made their way to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Taunton was also the chief medical officer for the Canadian teams at the Sydney Olympics, a position he also held with the Vancouver Grizzlies during their NBA run from 1995 to 2001, as well as at two Pan American Games and two World Student Games.