Taylor Rice is a free spirit who speaks her mind and thrives on competition.
She stands out as the only blonde on the Stanford women’s gymnastics team (she bleached her hair “just to mess with it”), strongly discourages having a mother as a coach, and already has an acting credit on her resume.
The sophomore from Las Vegas earned second team All-America honors on the floor exercise last year, and is off to a flying start in 2014.
Last week, Rice captured her first all-round title and finished first on the floor with a collegiate-best 9.900 score while leading the Cardinal to victory against No. 8 Georgia. The previous week, she equaled her career-high on the floor and competed in the all-round and bars for the first time at the NorCal Quad Meet.
Rice has long pined to compete on the uneven bars, but concentrated on the floor last year. This year, she got her wish.
“I’ve always loved doing bars,” she said. “Last year, I dislocated my pinkie right before the season, and the coaches were like, ‘We have a good bar lineup and want you to focus on vault, beam and floor.’ Also, being a freshman, everything was overwhelming at first. At the end of the season, I made it a goal: I really want to be an all-arounder.”
Rice’s parents, Mike and Cassie, have owned a gymnastics facility for 21 years. “Longer than I have been alive,” said Taylor.
In many ways, it has been her second home.
“I grew up training in the gym and playing around,” Rice said. “There are videos of me when I was 4-years-old running around the gym naked. It was my place and I just kind of fell into the sport.”
Cassie was her instructor. She and her husband competed in gymnastics at the University of Oklahoma, both earning All-America honors multiple times. And while Rice is grateful for her mom’s help and guidance, they often clashed.
“We tried rather unsuccessfully to separate it,” she said of the coach/personal relationship. “Just naturally, it would be practice and then she would drive me home and the gymnastics conversation would continue. We had more than a few battles.
“At the same time, in the end, it brought my mother and I closer because we have something we can relate upon, especially now that I’m in college. I talk to her a lot about what’s going on and it’s great to have someone who is so knowledgeable about gymnastics.”
Said Cassie, “The mother-daughter-coach relationship is very tough. I wouldn’t recommend it. There are trials and tribulations. I definitely learned a lot in coaching her in realizing not every action is a direct reflection on something I’ve done as a coach.”
Rice’s younger sister, Lauren, just received a full scholarship to Sacramento State. “I’ll probably be competing against her next year,” Rice said. “It’s kind of like a family sport for us.”
Rice also has two adopted brothers – Becca and Reagan – whom her parents adopted from Uganda in 2010. Two years earlier, Mike met the boys at an orphanage during a voluntary photography shoot. Both showed gymnastics prowess, climbing on each other’s shoulders with other kids.
“He said, ‘Wow, there are so many kids in need, we should help,’ ’’ Cassie recalled.
Then they began a long adoption process.
“It’s been really eye-opening for my whole family,” said Rice, a four-time Junior Olympic national qualifier. “It’s diverted the attention away from my sister and I and made me feel more worldly. Before, I was always focused on myself and the things I was doing were so important. Now, it’s like these boys have been introduced to my life and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ What they’re coming from and what they have experienced is so much greater than any hardship I’ve had here.’’
Rice learned that first-hand last summer on a family trip to Uganda. She spent about 10 days with the families of her adopted brothers.
“They are so grateful for everything my parents are doing,” she said. “It’s very sad, but at the same time eye-opening for me. We think both boys are about 14, but we don’t know for sure because they don’t have valid birth certificates.”
Becca and Reagan have watched Rice compete, but are swamped with school and soccer.
“Their English is not entirely there and they’re still a little behind in school, but socially, they are very much acclimated,” said Rice. “They partake in Facebook, Instagram, all that stuff, and have tons of friends. They absolutely love their lives here.”
Added Cassie, “They’re doing extremely well. It’s near impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps over there and actually improve your life. They hit the lottery on that one with the opportunities they will now have.”
About the acting. When Rice was 8, she secured a part in the Dr. Seuss movie “Cat in the Hat,” featuring Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin and Dakota Fanning. Rice’s father appeared in the Jim Carrey movie, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and also performed with Cirque de Soleil. He helped set up an audition.
“I basically got the part because of gymnastics,” said Rice, whose non-speaking character was called Thing One. “But also because my dad works in show business. They said they needed a four-foot tall little thing that could flip and I kind of fit that part. It was quite an amazing experience.”
Rice loves pop music, especially Lady Gaga, and spent two months last summer arranging and choreographing music for her floor routine this year.
“I can’t even put a number of it,” said Rice, when asked how many hours it took. “I spent a lot of time in my basement at night when everyone was asleep, replaying my music and trying to make something up. I really enjoy performing and take a lot of pride in making something that I can show off to everyone.”
Rice’s favorite place on campus is the top of the Dish, though she admits, “It takes a lot of work to get to that place.” While she hasn’t declared a major, she is leaning toward political science or international relations, and wants to study abroad to learn Spanish.
Rice expects big things out of her squad this year.
“I think we have a very strong team,” she said. “We have so many underclassman (9), but I don’t feel like they’re hesitant when they go out there in competition. I feel like they go out there with confidence, knowing they are going to hit it. Just that alone is a really good place for us to be.”
Rice certainly stands out in a crowd. Her natural hair color is “boring brown,” so she decided it was time for a change. Needless to say, her teammates give her grief.
“I was just like, ‘Why not?’ ’’ Rice said. “I was getting so bored. It’s just hair and fun to mess with it. Everyone was telling me, ‘You’re going to regret that so much.’ If it gets bad, I’ll just chop it off. I’ll be the only girl out there without a ponytail.”