Shelby Tyler's Unexpected Summer Lands Her in Finland

Shelby Tyler has gone from unknown to one of the best high jumpers in the country

When you think of Indiana and high jumping, your mind might go straight to new state record holder Nate Patterson, or to US No. 1 Katie Isenbarger.

The Indianans are both arguably the best ones out there due to their PRs. However, there's another jumper who seems to be forgotten about despite being a 2-time state champion. Shelby Tyler, a senior at Noblesville High School, has had stellar success at previous state meets and in postseason competitions.

Tyler describes jumping against Isenbarger these past few years as a "blessing." And it's a rare opportunity, she says, that you get to compete against the US No. 1 jumper week-after-week during the regular season.

But last summer, Tyler had a unique opportunity to compete in the USA Junior Championships, on the same surface where she had just won her second straight state title. These types of meets usually take place on the West Coast, making it a little tougher for Midwest and East Coast athletes to easily travel out to compete.

Making this meet even more special was it served as the qualifier for the U20 World Championships in Tampere, Finland.

Even with the high-stakes meet being held just two hours from home, she still had her heart set on competing at New Balance Nationals in North Carolina that same weekend. In 2017, Tyler took fourth in the championship high jump division and really wanted to get back out there and attempt a higher finish than before.

"If the (World U20) qualifiers had been in Sacramento, I doubt I would have gone," she said. "At the beginning of the summer, I had my heart set on competing at New Balance Nationals."

Once the Tyler family learned that she would be jumping on separate days at each of the meets, they decided she could find a way to make it work. First, she had to focus on the competition in Bloomington before the competition in Greensboro. She wasn't heavily concerned with making the team. Mainly, she just wanted to compete against the highest level of competition she had ever faced.

"The possibility to make the U.S. team was just an added bonus, because I didn't really think I would finish first or second against the other amazing jumpers that were there," she said. 

Jumping seemed to move quickly as there were only seven jumpers competing for a spot. But Shelby looked as good as ever, clearing nearly ever bar on the first attempt.

She had a little hiccup at 1.76 meters, missing her first attempt, but quickly redeemed herself, clearing it on the second attempt. She still was not worried about making the team, even though two jumpers went out at that height.

Two heights later, at 1.82 meters, only three jumpers remained, with Tyler sitting in first. She remained calm at 1.85m and cleared it on her first attempt. Then it became the waiting game to see if the other two girls would clear it.

Morgan Smalls missed all three attempts, which eliminated her from the competition. Sanaa Barnes missed her first attempt, but cleared on the second attempt with little problem. This meant the bar would be raised once again to 1.88m/6-2, which was a height neither girl had ever cleared, or had come close to, before. In fact, both had just set new personal bests by clearing 1.85m.

This is when the realization hit her -- she had just qualified for Team USA, arguably one of the hardest track and field teams in the world to make.

"When Sanaa and I were the only ones who cleared 1.85m, I realized that I was going to Finland," Tyler said. "I was surprised, but obviously super was hard to focus on the next bar."

Unfortunately, neither girl cleared the last bar, ending the competition. Tyler took home the gold medal on a countback. However, heading home would have to wait as she still planned competing at New Balance Nationals.

It was Saturday night in Bloomington, Indiana, and she was scheduled to compete in Greensboro, North Carolina on Sunday afternoon. And, she still had to go through team processing, which can take hours to finish.

So why drive 10 hours to earn another national title? Tyler, simply, loves the atmosphere so much that she just had to get back.

So the family piled into their Chevy Tahoe and headed east on their way to North Carolina. They left Bloomington after midnight and arrived in Greensboro at 9:30 the next morning. The high jump competition started at around 2:30 p.m., but she had to get checked in and warmed up before that.

Despite running on very little sleep, Tyler went into the competition ready to compete and finish just as well as she had 24 hours ago in Indiana. Although she didn't jump as high, it was still enough to take home another gold medal and another national title.

Just a couple weeks later, Tyler was on an airplane headed to Helsinki en route to Tampere, Finland, to compete for Team USA. Tyler got to room with Lindsay Baker, a thrower from Ohio who currently attends Ashland University, and loved it.

"As I was jumping in qualifiers at the end of the week, I heard Lindsay scream, 'That's my roomie!' from the crowd and I knew I had a lifelong friend." Tyler said of her new-found friend and teammate.

When it came to practice time, the athletes were mostly on their own and only had a couple days of scheduled practices as a team. Tyler took full advantage of this and continued to train every day. She took one day of actual jumps on Wednesday, two days before qualifiers. The other days were just prep work or quick little shake outs.

In order to make finals at Worlds, competitors had to place in the top 12 out of 22 athletes in the qualifying heats. Tyler cleared 1.84 meters and advanced to the finals, which were scheduled to take place on the meet's final day.

She was the only American to qualify, as Barnes just missed out, taking eighth in her section of the prelims.

Unfortunately, Tyler didn't jump as well on Sunday in the finals, only clearing 1.80m to finish 11th. Karyna Taranda of Belarus took home the gold, jumping a height of 1.92m.

Tyler traded in the black and gold for the red white and blue uniform

"After I competed, I was kind of disappointed in my performance of 1.80m in the finals because I knew that I was a better jumper than that," Tyler said. "However, I know that not everyone can perform their best on every given day, and I'm proud of myself for taking the opportunity that was given and making the best of it. I jumped to the best of my ability that day, and that's enough for me." 

Now back home in Noblesville, Tyler is starting her senior year and beginning to think about what is next for her in terms of track and field and college. But before she truly starts training for next year, it's time for some well deserved rest for the top high jumper in the state of Indiana and the nation.

She already knows that she wants to try and get some larger meets in. Her love for competition is boundless and she will have to start looking for more higher-profile meets than what are offered in Indiana.

The off-season? She already knows what she has to work on, her strength and explosiveness off of her feet. She also knows that she need to work on getting vertically higher in order to be able to clear those higher bars.

In a few short months, Tyler went from relative unknown nationally to a 2-time state champion, a 2-time national champion, and national-team member. She overcame injury and surgery to becoming the 11th best U20 high jumper in the world.

She says she can only go higher from here.

"This season has definitely had its ups and downs," Tyler said, "but in the end I'm happy with the challenges I had to face."