Anthony Robert Wilcox was born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1951. One of eight children, Wilcox spent his childhood in Niagara Falls, enjoying sports and reading. When he started high school, his family moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts and during this time his participation in sports waned, replaced in part by an increasing interest in the school's student council.

In 1969 Wilcox began college at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst as a math major. By the end of his first year he had decided not to pursue that field, and eventually he changed his major to philosophy. After his freshman year, he and wife Marianne got married; the couple had their first child in August 1971. And during his senior year as an undergraduate, Wilcox became involved in distance running and road racing. In 1973 he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy, minoring in English.

After graduation, Wilcox spent three years working as a milk man in western Massachusetts, a time period during which he continued to actively pursue his interest in running. In 1975 he ran the Boston Marathon for the first time and the following year, 1976, he finished the race in fifteenth place.

That same year, Wilcox began graduate studies at UMass, studying exercise physiology and biochemistry, a research discipline sparked by his love of running. For his thesis, he conducted work on the interplay between caffeine, exercise and adiposity in rats. He completed his Ph.D. in 1980.

After finishing his doctoral program, Wilcox accepted a position as assistant professor at Kansas State University in the Department of Physical Education, Dance, and Leisure Studies. While there, he continued his investigations on caffeine and exercise, and also began a new line of research on oxygen consumption while running. In 1982 he became the coordinator of KSU's Concepts in Physical Education Program, and remained in this role until 1986.

Wilcox moved to Oregon State University in 1987, becoming an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education, a unit organized within the College of Health and Human Performance. Not long after his arrival, the unit changed its name to the Department of Exercise and Sports Science. Wilcox spent his first few years teaching classes in exercise physiology and conducting research on the health benefits of exercise and on energy metabolism during exercise. In 1991 he became the graduate coordinator of the department, and he was named department chair in 1994, continuing in this vein for the next seventeen years.

A hallmark of Wilcox's OSU career has been heavy involvement with the OSU Faculty Senate. Wilcox was first elected as a senator in 1990, a position that he held until 1998. He also served on the Faculty Senate Executive Committee from 1992 to 1994 and, in 1993, he was elected to a two-year term on the Oregon State System of Higher Education's Interinstitutional Faculty Senate. In 1997 he spent a year as Faculty Senate President, and in this capacity he was a member of the OSU President's Cabinet as well. In fall 1999, he won the L. Curtis Mumford Faculty Service Award for his dedication to university activities.

In 2005 Wilcox returned to the Faculty Senate and, from 2007 to 2008, he was again part of the Senate Executive Committee. He completed his service to the Faculty Senate in 2010, having spent some thirteen years as a member of the deliberative body.

In the early 2000s, the College of Health and Human Performance merged with the College of Home Economics, and a few years later the departments of Nutrition and Exercise Science were merged into a single Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science, with Wilcox continuing on as chair. Later, that merger evolved into a new School of Biological and Population Health Sciences, for which Wilcox served as co-director from 2011 to 2014. He retired from OSU in 2015.