The Ride: From full ride to riding pro: Tayler Wiles paves her own path
Whether it’s in the classroom or on the bike, Tayler Wiles strives to be perfect.
“I’ve always wanted to be the very best,” Wiles said. “When I played soccer I’d spend hours in my backyard juggling and running my own drills. In school I spent every waking hour studying. I pulled more all-nighters than I can remember. I was never naturally smart, so I worked three times as hard to keep up and attempt to be perfect. Of course I carried this type A crazy person behavior into my cycling career.”
Before developing into one of the strongest female cyclists in the world, the Utah native had entirely different goals. She was a competitive soccer player on track to becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“In high school, I was obsessed with my grades. I really wanted to go to a world-class medical school after I got my undergraduate degree.”
Wiles comes from a long lineage of hard working people, but no college graduates. Her sister was the first in the family to finish college with an education degree and went on to complete her masters. The plan was for Wiles to follow in her footsteps.
Despite receiving multiple acceptance letters from universities across the country, Wiles opted to stay close to home. She enrolled in the University of Utah on a full ride academic scholarship. Immediately, she dived into college life and studied “her brains out” while juggling competitive soccer.
“Unfortunately no matter how long and hard I practiced, I wasn’t quite good enough to be picked up by the bigger universities, so eventually I realized the smartest thing to do was to focus on my academics.”
However Wiles’s love of sport resurfaced sophomore year when she discovered cycling. She raced, trained, and studied for three years before making the decision to swap books for bikes full-time.
Of course, walking away from a full ride scholarship wasn’t an easy decision. With five and a half years of school and two almost completed science degrees under her belt, the self-professed perfectionist sometimes wonders if she made the right move. But when she does, she recalls the unique experiences professional cycling has provided and it’s a choice she doesn’t regret.
“School was my whole life,” Wiles said. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about cycling. I had to follow this crazy dream of becoming a professional athlete. I’d been thinking about it since I was a little girl kicking a soccer ball around the yard. Cycling offered me a new avenue for these dreams and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. As you hear all the time, school is always there, your athletic prime will not.
“My mom never questioned my decision. She has been supportive from day one – helping me buy my first time trial bike even though we definitely didn’t have the kind of money to casually throw around. She believed in my dream and stepped up time after time to help me follow it.”
Now in her fifth year as a professional cyclist, her new goals include winning the Olympic and world championship time trial. Major dreams require major sacrifice, something Wiles learned about from a young age. Her parents were struggling young adults when she and her sister were born and divorced when she was four.
“My mom looked after the both of us while having quite a few health issues. She has lupus and battled thyroid cancer when I was young,” Wiles said. “She kept it to herself in an attempt to shield me and sister from the fear that comes along with having an ill parent.”
Meanwhile, Wiles’ father was struggling with alcoholism, a reality she was admittedly naive to as a child.
“To me, dad was always just the fun loving, adventurous buddy that I got to ski, hike, fish, and camp with,” Wiles said. “Occasionally he’d even let me drive to McDonalds at midnight when I was only 11 years old. No big deal, right?”
Her father has been sober for nearly 16 years. One year, right before the holidays he decided that enough was enough, went cold turkey and hasn’t had a drop since. Wiles said some her favorite childhood memories come from AA meetings she attended with her dad. There, she learned about consequences of actions and perhaps most importantly, openness and acceptance.
“I discovered the true meaning of human resilience and the power to change,” Wiles said. “I think it shaped the optimism and open-mindedness I carry with me today. Despite their setbacks, my parents did their absolute best to give me a good childhood. Only now that I am grown up can see what that cost them, how hard it was and all they sacrificed in order to do so. I’m incredibly close to both of my parents, as well as my step-parents, and would not change a single thing about any of them.”