Aaron Taylor is easily recognizable, even in the most packed of rooms. We see his smiling face and tailored plus-sized designer suits every week of the fall during CBS college football broadcasts, a position through which his 6-foot-4-inch 300-pound frame accumulates more than 100,000 airline miles each year.
His career as an analyst came to fruition after spending six years in the National Football League as an offensive guard, most notably for the Green Bay Packers, where he was a starter for their Super Bowl XXXI championship team.
But his visit to Austin this week is not to watch a Longhorns practice. In fact, it has very little to do with football at all. Aaron Taylor found out approximately three years ago that (like his late former teammate, Hall of Famer Reggie White) he suffered from obstructive sleep apnea.
“I was tired of waking up with bruises on my sides every morning from my wife elbowing me.” Taylor, 39, said laughing. At the time, Taylor was feeling overly tired and struggled finding energy for his day-to-day routine. “I wasn’t feeling rested, and my memory was off. I had just gone to work with ABC, and there were all these coaching changes - things I knew I had studied, and at times I would just go blank. I wanted to get tested for sleep apnea to rule it out as a possibility” he said.
It turns out that like one-third of current NFL linemen, and according to a Mayo Clinic study, more than 60% of former NFL linemen, he was indeed afflicted with the disorder. An ailment he calls a “silent killer.”
Taylor now logs even more airline miles as the spokesperson for Wake Up To Sleep, a nonprofit organization on behalf of whom he will be speaking at a private event in Austin this week. Their goal is simple: to raise awareness of sleep apnea and the importance of its detection and treatment, and to provide resources, help, and counsel to those learning how to live with the disorder. All at no cost.
“I was doing a TV show in San Diego and this guy who worked there at the station came up to me afterward and said ‘Man, I think I have that. I just thought all the men in my family snored. I just thought we were a snoring family and everyone dies at 55 or so. I’m 53, that’s what this is about. We’re trying to educate people.”
Sleep apnea isn’t snoring, though. You don’t have to be a snorer to have sleep apnea and vice-versa. Sleep apnea is an actual air obstruction that is caused by a myriad of different issues found in many different types of people. In fact, an estimated one in five Americans have it in some form. Taylor calls it the silent killer because many times it goes undiagnosed.
“I wasn’t breathing for 45 minutes a night. It's crazy. Every hour, I literally stopped breathing for periods of 20 seconds, like 20 times an hour. A lot of people don’t have a spouse there in bed with them or kids in the room next door to tell them this could be an issue.”
Reggie White died with an unused C-PAP machine lying next to his bed. A C-PAP is an airflow apparatus that requires you to put on a mask during sleeping and effectively pressures airflow past the obstruction causing the OSA. C-PAP machines are becoming far more sleek and cool-looking nowadays – trust me, my Dad was diagnosed in 1992 with OSA and he couldn’t get his through airport security it was so crazy looking and bulky. Taylor, whose mother has also been a longtime OSA sufferer, joked that the first one he remembered her getting looked like a window-unit air conditioner. “Nowadays these things look like a Bose Wave Radio or something.” Taylor said. “I am always in hotels, always traveling, its easy …. The fact is, we’re not born wearing a mask on our face. We’re not really used to sleeping like that. It’s an adjustment, it takes adjustment to the way you do things … like when you were a kid. You didn’t just learn how to tie your shoes. You had your mom standing there, showing you, helping you out. Then one day, you tied your own shoes. Obviously, we are not going to come stand in your room while you are sleeping or something (laughs), that would be kinda creepy. But that is why we’re here. We provide coaching, counsel, everything. Free. All free. The goal is to educate.”
“All kinds of programs exist that can help, getting tested, getting into a C-PAP, all of it. We are here so you know the best way to go about getting back to yourself again.”
Please visit WakeUpToSleep.org for more information on sleep apnea or interest in helping to raise awareness.
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]
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