David Taylor Miller learned those lessons as he approached young adulthood. Better known by his middle name, the 19-year-old had worked hard to enlist in the United States Army which required him to lose weight before he could even be considered for boot camp. After returning home from basic training, his family marveled at what he had been able to do to make such a drastic change. A few weeks later, he would be sent to Afghanistan on active duty.
His aunt, Suzanne D’Iorio, remembers the time before his deployment fondly.
“Toward the end of his life, the pictures we have of him show he was never more fit than before he left. He had lost close to maybe 100 pounds between boot camp and the weight he had to lose just to get into the boot camp.”
Tragically, Taylor’s life would be cut short six weeks following his deployment. He and another soldier were killed in June 2010, after a bomb was detonated at a checkpoint in Afghanistan.
“When he came home his life was going to be very different,” D’Iorio said. “So it’s kind of tragic that at 19, when he was just starting to create a life for himself that he was cut down and that’s why we did what we did and created Taylor’s Heroes.”
In Taylor’s memory, his mother Leslie Miller and D’Iorio founded Taylor’s Heroes, a nonprofit organization that provides fitness and nutrition programs to children who want to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle.
“A lot of money poured in [following Taylor’s death] and we sat on it for a year really not knowing how we wanted to go about using it,” said D’Iorio. “What we finally decided would be the best way to honor him was to create a fitness and nutrition program for kids, mainly because Taylor struggled with his weight his whole life.”
D’Iorio recalled the hardships Taylor endured as a child - being the butt of jokes and subjected to bullying - that the idea was born as a way to help other children who might also struggle with their weight or eating habits.
“He was bullied, he was teased. It made making friends difficult and made his life difficult, so we thought what better way to honor him than to create something to help kids.”
The foundation sponsors children between the ages of 12-18 who are looking to make a drastic change in their lifestyle toward healthy living. There were more than a few ideas being considered by the organization’s board of directors while in the planning stages, but D’Iorio saw the possibility for something more personal to honor her fallen nephew.
“There were a lot of different ways we could have went with it. We could have taken the money and just give them a membership to the YMCA, or you could take the money and give it to someone else’s program who might be doing something similar to what we wanted to do which was considered pretty heavily. I fought hard to keep it our own because I didn’t want to lose the Taylor’s Heroes identity. I didn’t want anyone else running our program.”
Taylor’s Heroes is a 14-week program that is funded completely by the organization. If selected, children receive a six-month scholarship to the Saratoga Regional YMCA. Because the program is free, the foundation looks to find children who are dedicated to making the change when considering applicants.
“The number one thing that we look for is the desire,” D’Iorio said. “In the questionnaire we have we ask over and over several different ways why they want to make the change now. Then the parents need to write that they agree and commit to helping their children complete this and that they’re not just doing it on a whim because it’s free. We’re not charging anyone, so really anyone could come in. We do ask that they’re committed and that their parents are committed to helping get them to all the activities we have planned and not sabotage their efforts.”
After a basic orientation and meeting with the directors, selected applicants must select two activities that they’ve never tried before.
“They get to pick two activities that they’ve never tried before, which is completely personal,” D’Iorio said. “It can be anything from having a basketball coach to get their skills up to have the confidence to join a team, or personal training or weight lifting. I have two girls now who are interested in taking yoga classes. It can be Tae Kwon Do; it could be any program in the community.”
They also meet with nutritionists during the course of the program, which D’Iorio says includes cooking classes, tutorials on nutritional label reading and tips for eating healthier while dining out at a restaurant.
The organization recently completed their first session, modestly sized at just four students.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better first session,” D’Iorio said.
D’Iorio says the experience was as rewarding as she had hoped, honoring Taylor’s memory and helping the next generation in the process.
“Several of the kids reminded me of Taylor, a lot of his personality traits and it’s very rewarding to see them start off shy and quiet, but after a few weeks they open up and they’re joking around with the me and the instructors. They were very dedicated and open to learning and that was very, very rewarding.”
It is D’Iorio’s hope that the program will continue to grow and help kids not only locally, but statewide and nationally as well.
Taylor’s Heroes is currently accepting applications for future sessions, with the next one scheduled to begin March 4. Those interested in applying, or to learn more about the organization, visit www.TaylorsHeroes.org or call (518) 894-1658 for more information.