Taran Nolan confronts spinal cord injury with fighting spirit

Taran Nolan and Anthony Purcell at a Walking With Anthony fundraiser at New Port Theater on Sept. 14.
Taran Nolan and Anthony Purcell have their picture taken at a Walking With Anthony fundraiser at New Port Theater on Sept. 14.
(Courtesy of Joseph Gillespie)

Life after her accident will never be the same.

Taran Nolan, not unlike so many spinal cord injury victims, faced myriad mental and physical hurdles ahead of her.

In addition to that, she would have to forge forward with the knowledge that the unthinkable had happened. The accident that had left her body broken had taken the life of her 3-year-old daughter.

Local residents may remember Nolan as the wife of a local high school football coach. Her husband, Jimmy, spent stints at Laguna Beach, Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa, among other stops. The couple’s children often played on the field before and after games.


On Sept. 10, 2020, Nolan was involved in a head-on collision in South Carolina that took the life of her youngest daughter, Micki, and Glendora Holmes, the driver of the other car.

From her earliest victories in the recovery process, Nolan, who now resides in Mission Viejo, refused to accept the script for those who suffer spinal cord injuries.

“They said, ‘You might get a little movement back in your feet,’ and then I got it back right away,” Nolan said. “Even though it was like a little flicker, I was like, ‘[Nope],’ and it was so funny because we have it on recording. Everybody’s clapping and hooting and hollering and having a big party, and I’m like, ‘Show me the video,’ because I can’t feel anything. I can’t look down. I can’t see anything.

“They said, ‘See, a little flicker.’ I’m like, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. I can do so much better.’”

Taran Nolanand Walking With Anthony founder Micki Purcell during a fundraiser at New Port Theater.
Taran Nolan, right, joins Walking With Anthony founder Micki Purcell during a benefit event at New Port Theater on Sept. 14, 2023.
(Courtesy of Joseph Gillespie)

Nolan eventually connected with Walking With Anthony, a nonprofit organization that aids spinal cord injury patients in life after rehab. Micki Purcell, whose maiden name is Nolan, started the organization after her son, Anthony, suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident in Miami in 2010.

Purcell said she felt compelled to act after witnessing the struggles of families to afford care for their own loved ones with such injuries after insurance would no longer pay the bills.

“Luckily, we had the funds to get Anthony what he needed,” Purcell said. “Seeing everybody else in rehab struggling and parents crying and selling houses and trying to do everything they can to help their kids, that’s why I started this charity.”

Nolan, who received a $10,000 grant from Walking With Anthony previously, was an honored guest of the organization at its fundraising event at the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar on Sept. 14. Purcell said the event netted $150,000, enough for 15 additional grants.

Given that Purcell and Nolan’s late daughter share a first and last name, Nolan believes their paths crossing did not happen by chance. She now tries to carry herself with the strength of two.

Nolan said she enjoyed being at the event, where she could hear others’ stories. She hopes to raise awareness that traumatic events impact not just the person experiencing them but those around them.

“When a traumatic thing happens to one person in the family, the whole family loses a sibling, or the whole family’s mom gets handicapped and can’t be mom anymore,” Nolan said. “I used to call myself just a head sitting in a wheelchair because I could boss people around, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Now, I can push my hand and actually move a wheelchair. That’s a long way from being able to do nothing.”

The long-term goals for Nolan include gaining full independence within the next couple of years. While not there yet, the 39-year-old has milestones to speak of. She bragged that she was able to put her makeup on by herself. A nurse did her hair.

“[These are] big steps,” said Nolan, who was a yoga instructor before the accident. “I eat by myself. I brush my teeth by myself. Yes, I use an electric toothbrush, so that makes sure I get two minutes of solid joy in my mouth. I sit at the sink. I can stand up. I just want more victories.”

Josh Salic, a physical therapist who has worked with both Anthony Purcell and Nolan, said learning to walk again is often the least of an individual’s worries after suffering a spinal cord injury. The journey back begins with relearning basics, such as breathing and eating.

Additional issues include bowel and bladder function and working out through pain.

“She’s made a ton of progress,” Salic said of Nolan. “... She’s walking now. She’s walking in a walker without any assistance. She’s able to stand on her own, transfer. She’s become so much more independent.

“Every time when you start working with a spinal cord injury, you really aren’t focused on walking again. You’re just focused on all the little things that can help them be independent, as independent as possible, because that’s huge in life, being able to do things for yourself.”