Janice Kurbjun
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October 13, 2012
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Who We Are: Pedaling a life in balance

Sometimes, Crystal Miller pulls on her exercise gear and steps outside for a walk or run in the middle of the school day.

It's not about escaping from her duties as principal of Summit Cove Elementary School, though. In fact, it's often about enhancing her performance.

Faced with long days that sometimes stretch to the 16 or 18 hour mark, Miller finds it's impossible to stay fresh for that long - that is, unless she takes a breath of fresh air, literally.

"I need fresh air to be effective," said Miller, whose personal passion for the outdoors and balancing work with fitness overflows onto her staff and students. "I notice if I haven't been outside. I don't believe you can work 16-18 hour days and be effective. Your brain needs a physical and mental break."

Though Miller finds outlets in everything from walking or running her pointers and foster Brittany spaniel before work (sometimes, she thinks it will be better to sleep, and that never proves true) to working out at Crossfit Low Oxygen in Frisco, her one true love is mountain biking.

She can often be seen on the recpath or on nearby singletrack after work and on weekends, powering through something challenging. Her love affair with the fat tire came after a weekend in Canyonlands, where she watched bicyclists pass her on a hiking trail. They were covering at least 15 miles, a feat that's long and grueling on foot. She decided biking sounded like a better idea.

"I came back from that trip and bought a TREK Singletrack," she said. "I'd ride around the dirt and find places to ride."

At the time, she was living in San Diego, before teaching in western Colorado as she procured her administrator's degree. She's been in Summit County for about a decade, working as a principal.

That was 25 years ago, and today, she lives in a mountain biking mecca, and takes full advantage of the evolution of mountain biking components, from lighter frames to full suspension.

She's not just a recreational rider, either. A week ago, she and three teammates from the MSO Divas competed in the final 24 Hours of Moab event, finishing first among all the women. She competes in the Maverick Sports' annual Summit Mountain Challenge mountain biking series locally and has done numerous other distance races, such as the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde and 18 Hours of Fruita.

Miller also takes her passion for fitness - and balance - to a higher level in her workplace.

"We're an International Baccalaureate school," she said. "One of the learner profiles is to be balanced. ... There is so much work to do in this building, I could be here 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and still feel like I have three things on my plate. The kids need so much and they deserve so much."

When she steps outside to find balance in her own life, she hopes her staff and students see it. She hopes they see that their principal isn't around, and so they, too, can step outside for a breath of fresh air.

"Even the principal has to go outside," Miller said. She also brings physical fitness to the kids in a more direct way, through Girls on the Run, which started last year as a way to encourage girls to set running goals and become empowered as they meet them. The Summit Cove program is maxed out at 45 participants and has spread to other schools, where they are at or have nearly reached capacity.

Now, the boys are demanding something similar. Where is Boys on the Run, they ask.

So, Miller is working with David Tittle at Crossfit Low Oxygen, who is certified to work with kids, to bring crossfit to an after-school program. She recently wrote a few grants to ensure there's enough resources to start and continue the program.

"I'm always looking for ways to increase the kids' involvement or love of school," she said. "Maybe you're not the best reader, but you have crossfit or Girls on the Run."

It all returns to balance, because Miller balances her mental strain with physical exercise and encourages others to, as well. But it's also a chance for Miller to juice her creativity in a different way.

"A lot of times, my best ideas come while I'm running," said the principal, who carries a recorder with her just in case a brainchild descends upon her. "Sometimes, (those recordings) don't make sense two hours later," but often it's a chance to figure out how something can work, or come up with a new way of doing something.

"I come back with a better perspective," she said.

It's not always easy, though.

Despite the fact that Miller finds her Zen while she's pedaling her bike, taking in the scenery that changes on each ride, it's sometimes tough to break away. So, she uses her scheduling skills to make sure someone's waiting for her, or there's a class on the docket that perhaps costs money. It forces her to get out and regroup before tackling new tasks afterwards.

"You feel so different day-to-day, based on everything that's going on," Miller said. "You decompress and destress and come back to things fresh."

When asked what she'll do when it's time to put the bike away, Miller pouts and says, "it's a sad day."

"I love turning the pedals. There's just nothing like it for me," she said. But when the snow flies, she takes it as forced down-time. She turns to Nordic skiing (she laughs as she mentions skate skiing, which she's not good at, but a good run gives her the glimmer of hope needed to return time and again), yoga, crossfit - all ways to cross-train. But she doesn't put her bike away completely. Instead, she tucks it away, ready to grab at a moment's notice if a good weather report comes from Fruita.

Though Miller has a handful of winter activities, she's always willing to try something new. Snowboarding didn't stick, she said, but yoga did. She and a friend try to seek out a new activity to try each year.

"Your body needs to move and your brain needs to think in different ways," she said. "It's hugely important for people's brain development as we get older. We have to try something new a lot. I think you'll stagnate in your life and your profession if you don't try something that physically and mentally pushes your boundaries."


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The Summit Daily Updated Oct 14, 2012 05:51PM Published Oct 13, 2012 11:35PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.