When Hudson Taylor appeared as the guest editor of the Washington Blade Sports Issue in 2015, he was already in his fifth year of serving as executive director of Athlete Ally, which he co-founded along with his wife Lia. Their mission is to end homophobia and transphobia in sports by providing public awareness campaigns, educational programming and tools and resources to foster inclusive sports communities.
At the same time, he was volunteering as an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University. The coaching position allowed him to keep in touch with the sport that he loves, stay in shape and remain involved in the culture of sports.
His duties at Athlete Ally escalated to a point that required his attention on a full-time basis and he left his life as a wrestler behind to focus on the mission of his nonprofit.
“Wrestling had been a daily part of my life since age 6. When it ended, it was a struggle for me,” says Taylor. “The only way I knew how to stay in shape was through wrestling.”
Hudson Taylor was born in Pennington, N.J., and started wrestling at age 6. By age 10, he was committed to the sport and would go on to win nationals the following year along with maintaining top five national rankings in his weight class through eighth grade.
He next left his family home for prep school and boarded at Blair Academy for four years where he lived the life of a student-athlete. Taylor’s tenure at the school was during a wrestling dynasty that won 31 consecutive National Prep Titles from 1981 to 2012.
“One unique thing about Blair is that you are not divided across other sports. The wrestling team is committed to training year around,” Taylor says. “Outside of wrestling season, my fall sport was weightlifting and my spring sport was also weightlifting.”
Taylor was heavily recruited by colleges and could have gone anywhere. Northwestern University was his first choice, but he ultimately chose University of Maryland because its facilities were new and the theater department was the best match for what he wanted to study.
Not only was Taylor obsessed with competing, he had clear goals about other aspects of his life and they included Broadway, acting and performing. He entered the University of Maryland as a theater major with a music minor in vocal performance.
While competing at Maryland, Taylor was named the Atlantic Coastal Conference Wrestler of the Year in both 2007-08 and 2009-10, after winning the 197-pound title at the conference tournament. In his other two seasons, 2007 and 2009, Taylor finished second in his weight at the ACC’s.
On the national level, he finished third in the country in 2008 and 2009, and fourth as a senior in 2010. He is tied for fifth in career pins in the all-time NCAA record books with 87. At Maryland, he holds the school record for career pins (87), career wins (165) and pins in a single-season (24).
The time commitment proved difficult juggling sports and theater and his college major evolved into interactive performance art. It was the intermingling of sports and theater that would define his life path post-college.
To stand in solidarity with the LGBT community as a straight ally, Taylor wore an LGBT equality sticker from the Human Rights Campaign on his wrestling headgear. He received national media attention and the resulting experience would be his inspiration to launch Athlete Ally.
Fast forward to 2016 and Taylor is missing his sport. He begins stopping in at Edge Wrestling in Hoboken which offers adult wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts, muay thai and boxing. He would begin sparring with five-time World Jiu Jitsu champion Bernardo Faria, who is a black belt.
“Competitive jiu jitsu athletes take wrestling classes to help with their standing skills and we were having an exchange of knowledge,” says Taylor. “Not very many adults can give me a workout and I found myself getting tired; I was not in shape.”
A spark was ignited and Taylor began training in Brazilian jiu jitsu at the Marcelo Garcia Academy in NYC, which is two blocks from his Athlete Ally office. He says that wrestling and jiu jitsu are closely related but there is a huge wall between the two.
“When I first started going to the academy, I walked in as an elite level wrestler with an expectation,” Taylor says. “I ended up getting beat by people with nowhere near the time I have spent on the mat. It was both humbling and exciting to realize that I was a beginner again.”
After several months of going to classes three days a week, Taylor earned his blue belt in jiu jitsu in September, 2016.
“At that point I was like, ‘Heck, let’s compete. Put me in,’” Taylor says.
In his first tournament, the Pan IBJJF Jiu Jitsu No-Gi Championships in New York City, he won the gold medal in the super heavyweight division (215 to 220 pounds.) as a blue belt. He also entered the absolute division, which encompasses all the weight classes and won another gold medal.
“I have always been a student of my sport and obsessed with technique. Now that I am entering a new sport, I get to learn a whole new body of knowledge,” Taylor says. “I am in love with the new knowledge I am learning.”
Taylor next began teaching private lessons to jiu jitsu black belts to increase their wrestling skills. In April, he crossed over to grappling and won his division at the 2017 Grappling World Championship Team Trials in Las Vegas. He is now qualified to compete at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in October.
The journey continued this past June when he won his division at the 2017 World Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship in Long Beach at the blue belt level. In November, he is scheduled for the World No-Gi IBJJF Championship in San Francisco.
“I wish I had found all of this sooner because I want to compete against the best,” says Taylor, 30. “I am restricted by the belt system and it could take several years to advance beyond the blue belt.”
Just recently, Taylor began teaching his first classes at the Marcelo Garcia Academy, helping the athletes with their standing game. For now, he is enjoying his return to competitive sports and has no immediate plans to tie it into his work at Athlete Ally.
Coming up for Athlete Ally is a new campaign regarding the bidding process of the NCAA along with an athletic equality index on the policies of the NCAA Power 5 conferences.
When asked if he would ever consider showing support for the LGBT community on the jiu jitsu mat as he once did as a college wrestler, he doesn’t hesitate to reply.
“If I compete in a country that I feel needs athlete activism, you can bet there will be a patch on my uniform that supports equality,” Taylor says.