(Photo by BYU Photo)
Tylor Thatcher is living the dream of any cross country runner. He is an All-American, a contender for the conference championship and the leader of a perennial national powerhouse.
Kevin Thatcher, Tylor’s father, didn’t quite get the same opportunity to live that dream. He came to BYU with hopes to run cross country, but his career was cut short before he even had the chance to run in a BYU uniform.
“He has that unfinished dream,” Tylor said. “When I started running without him having to tell me to run, it ignited that spark again in him, like this could be it.”
That spark is alive and well, as Kevin is Tylor’s biggest fan and supporter. He consistently attends meets across the country and is one of the more vocal fans, cheering and coaching from the sidelines. Kevin openly acknowledges that he is fulfilling his dreams vicariously through Tylor.
“I didn’t accomplish the goals I had set,” Kevin said. “I wanted him to do everything he wanted to do. He did say to me, ‘Dad you’re living your college through me.’ I said ‘Yeah I am; proud of it.’”
Kevin has accompanied Tylor on virtually every step of his successful running career as his running coach and mentor.
Tylor got his start in cross country after trying other sports. His got his first taste of running in the sixth grade when all the students were required by the school to participate in a race.
“I started out by trying out for every other major sport,” Thatcher said. “I couldn’t sprint fast, couldn’t catch a ball and couldn’t throw. Then in sixth grade we had a mandatory Turkey Trot just for fun. I just jogged through and at the end I ended up third and I thought, ‘I didn’t have to try and I got third, I think I’ll do this.’”
Running was the first sport that came naturally to Tylor, so he went out for the track team the next year in middle school and quickly became one of the best distance runners on the team and in the state, finishing fourth in the state in cross country his junior and senior years. He came by his talent honestly with his dad being a three time All-American runner in high school and his mother having placed second in the state in the mile in high school.
“Tylor and all our kids were athletic,” his dad said. “I knew he had a lot of potential. In order for him to do well and get a scholarship, he’d have to train well.”
Kevin saw Tylor’s natural talent early on and decided to take responsibility for his training. He would post workouts and inspirational quotes in Tylor’s room. Kevin would even overrule Tylor’s high school coach on occasion.
“My dad would have me call him to tell him what the workout was and then he would tell me if I could do it or not,” Tylor said.
One particular experience epitomizes the relationship between Tylor, Kevin and Tylor’s high school coach.
“One day he (Kevin) showed up to practice and we were supposed to have a work out,” Tylor said. “He didn’t want me to have a work out; he just wanted me to run a couple miles because it was before a race. I said ‘What about coach? He is expecting me to be at this workout.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about coach. I’ll take care of coach.’ I didn’t do the workout.”
That coaching mentality has subsided a bit since Tylor started running at BYU, but Kevin still offers advice and encouragement regularly.
“My first race after my mission, he had been craving, had been on this deprivation of races for so long,” Tylor said. “I hadn’t started as good as I wanted to, so I was back in the pack for half the race and couldn’t get up to the front. The next week, in five days he called me six times and told me the exact same strategy, which was ‘Get out quick; run your race.’ He could elaborate that simple plan into a 45-minute speech.”
With his twin brother, Kevin has been one of the most loyal and enthusiastic attendees at the meets each year, home and away, providing encouragement not only for Tylor, but the entire team of BYU runners.
“Kevin Thatcher and his brother are definitely a big part of the cross country team,” said Jared Ward, Tylor’s former teammate at BYU. “They are the ones you see leaning over the rails, screaming at us as we run by. Sometimes they will even be out there running and cooling down with the team after the race.”
Though Kevin has been an integral part of his son’s running career, Tylor’s success at a high level has come from his work ethic and competitive nature. His diligence and determination are the main reasons he has thrived.
“He has always been dedicated no matter what it was,” Kevin said. “We’ve always taught our kids that if you start something, finish it. He’s always done that and always done it well.”
That dedication combined with a will to win has fueled Tylor to some impressive victories, including beating an All-American just before his mission in a hometown race that showed a bit of his flair and charisma.
Tylor and his dad have been running the Cherry Pickers Trot, a four-mile race around a cherry farm near Spokane, Wash., since Tylor was in high school. The race is on a very hilly course and usually attracts numerous college runners.
In 2008 after Tylor’s freshman year at BYU, All-American Laef Barnes from UCLA was running the race. Barnes, who is originally from the Spokane area, got out to a fast start and led for the first three miles of the race. Tylor caught up to the second- place runner at the two-mile mark and found out that Barnes was in first.
He took off after Barnes and caught him at the three-mile mark just before a long uphill stretch. As he flew by Barnes, Tylor smacked him on the behind and said, “Nice job.” Barnes’ only response was a look of exhaustion, as he knew he had lost the race.
That confidence and gamesmanship Tylor displayed in a hometown race before his mission has helped him to many achievements throughout his time at BYU.
With last year’s top runner, Jared Ward, having completed his eligibility, Tylor’s success makes him the natural fit to lead the team into the upcoming cross-country season, a role, he says, he will fill mostly by example. Rather than having one specific role model as a leader, Tylor has learned specific traits from his previous team leaders that he has applied into his own life.
“I definitely like to lead more by example than by word,” Tylor said. “It’s been proven to be more powerful. I’m kind of a quiet guy. I’ve tried to yell and it just doesn’t work. Leading team cheers, I’ll probably just delegate that off to someone. I figure I’ll be Moses and have Tommy Gruenewald be Aaron. As far as being a motivation for guys to reach and chase after, I can do that.”
“He’ll never back down in a workout,” Ward said. “He will push the team to be better.”
With his leadership responsibilities, Tylor has high expectations for the team for this upcoming season. Last season, BYU lost by one point to Portland at the WCC Championship race. After narrowly losing out on a championship, anything short of first place this year would be a disappointment.
“As long as our guys are healthy, we should be able to comfortably take the conference,” Tylor said. “If we continue to live up to our potential we could be a podium team. It would take a group effort for sure.”
Tylor finished eighth in the conference as a sophomore. As a junior he placed fourth in the conference and 34th in the country, earning All-American honors. Even with the individual accolades and accomplishments Tylor has already earned, he has his sights set higher for this upcoming cross country and indoor and outdoor track seasons. He expects himself to be among the nation’s elite in all three.
“I want to be a three-time All-American First Team,” Tylor said, referring to earning All-American status for cross country, and indoor and outdoor track. “I think I can be in the top-10 in nationals. It will take a great race and smart training to get there, but I think it’s something that’s not out of my reach.”
Behind Tylor’s success you’ll find a quiet, yet confident, personality with a couple of unique hobbies. His selfless and kind characteristics show through.
“I’ve done a little bit of cross-stitching,” Tylor said. “I’m not very good at it. I thought I was good at it and then I showed it to one of my friends and she looked at the back and asked why it was so messy. I thought it was supposed to be messy. It looks great on the front so I was happy. I typically give them away.”
Another of Tylor’s hobbies, not surprisingly, links back to his dad. Kevin worked in construction and remodeling as Tylor grew up, so the two would build things together. They have done multiple projects over the years.
Tylor’s relationship with his dad has clearly had an impact on his life. Running has been a vehicle through which the two have grown closer. Kevin is experiencing the success through his son that he never had the opportunity to experience himself, and Tylor has accomplished one of his earliest goals: to be faster than his dad.
“Tylor’s goal was to beat my times,” Kevin said. “Well he fell a little short of high school times and but totally dominated my college time. Either way, he has become a better runner then I ever did, and I am proud to be able to say that, and even more proud to have a young man such as him as a son.”
Tylor has been succeeding and accomplishing his goals for quite some time now. With high expectations and support, this season is bound to be Tylor’s best yet, and you can bet Kevin Thatcher will be there to watch every minute.