Tayler Wiles is one such outlier.
Wiles, who turns 24 this year, got her first road bike when she was 19. Since then, she has cruised her way from taking the tops spots at regional races to becoming the 2011 U.S. National Time Trials champion in the under-23 category to earning a spot on one of the world’s premier women’s cycling teams, Specialized Lululemon. It’s been a fruitful five years.
“Yeah, it’s a bit nutty. Once I get an idea in my head, there’s no stopping me,” Wiles said.
Growing up, Wiles lived in Murray with her mother, Sher Swensen. Even though she started cycling later in life, Wiles played soccer competitively at an early age. She excelled at the sport, and by the time she graduated from Murray High School, she had scholarships and offers to play at the college level.
Wiles wanted to be a professional athlete when she was younger, but she had a new goal in mind.
“I always dreamed of being the next Mia Hamm,” she said. “But I didn’t want to sacrifice school for athletics. I wanted to go to medical school, and that’s why I quit playing soccer.”
After a few semesters at the University of Utah as a double major in biology and exercise physiology, Wiles felt the need for a physical release, a break from studying and something to satisfy her competitive nature. That’s when her boyfriend at the time, Matt Bradley — the late University of Utah professor, community activist and fixture in the Utah bike racing scene — persuaded her to purchase a road bike.
“I got that bike so we could ride together. Then he talked me into racing. I don’t think he realized how far I was going to go,” Wiles said. “Two weeks later I was racing, which is ridiculous. I had no idea what I was doing. I got totally killed, but I loved it.”
Her first race was at the Sanpete Classic Road Race in 2008. Wiles didn’t yet understand race dynamics. She didn’t know that riding behind someone takes less effort than riding at the front of the pack (drafting). She didn’t know what an attack was (when stronger riders sprint to whittle down the field).
“We started the race and I remember this one lady — Margaret — just yelling at the girls,” Wiles said. “She had kept attacking, and I didn’t really understand and just thought ‘why is she riding away from me?’ So I kept following and following.”
Margaret Douglas, the lady who was yelling, also remembers the race. Douglas had told her teammates what her strategy was, that she was going to attack hard and fast, so she was impressed that Wiles kept up.
“I looked back to see who was still in the pack, and there was this really young, cute blond woman. I’d never seen her before,” Douglas said.
Douglas has been racing since 1978 — when professional women’s cycling teams didn’t exist — and she has seen thousands of competitors over the years, but rarely had she seen someone like Wiles.
An accomplished racer herself, Douglas spotted Wiles’ potential earlier on. Wiles’ close friend and former teammate, Kelsey Withrow, also saw something in Wiles.
“I’ve been around pro athletics most of my life, and you can kind of pick out the people who have something special, and I could tell with her,” Withrow said. “She’s just naturally talented.”
Along with the skillset for cycling, Douglas and Withrow got to know Wiles as a person. They describe her as disciplined, motivated and determined.
Rick Wiles, Tayler Wiles’ father, is a driven man himself. He owns and operates two businesses in Salt Lake, RW Lawncare and Millcreek Café, with his wife, Cortney.
Not one to take all the credit, Rick Wiles said that ambition is a trait Tayler inherited from both of her parents. Besides genetics, life experience was probably another big motivator for her, he said.
“This is tough to talk about, but I’m a recovering alcoholic. Tayler and her sister, Lindsey, they saw that. They saw how low I had gotten, and I don’t think they ever wanted to live that,” Rick Wiles said. “And they also see now how far I’ve come. I know they love and respect everything I’ve got now.”
Beyond her immense focus, Tayler Wiles’ family and friends also describe her as being selfless, caring, humble and positive.
“When you look at the quality of human beings, she’s just at the top,” Douglas said.
Rick Wiles attends many of the U.S. races — he’s affectionately known as “Papa Wiles” by his daughter’s teammates. With so much time spent watching his daughter competing on the road, he’s been able to witness her evolve as a racer and more.
“As proud as I am of all she’s accomplished in the sport, I’m most proud of the amazing person she’s become,” Rick Wiles said. “I don’t know how many parents can say this, but I respect my children.”
*Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.