MagazineMarch 2008Trail Blazer

Trail Blazer

Sitting next to Kylie Krauss in class, one might not guess that beneath that petite frame lies the soul of a champion. Get her talking about anything from mountain biking to marathoning, however, and you’ll soon see the sparkle and intensity in her deep brown eyes.

Krauss took up mountain biking as a teen, and when it came time to select a college, she chose Warren Wilson College in the mountains of western North Carolina partly because of the school’s reputation for having a strong mountain bike program under the leadership of former pro Art Shuster.

Winning a collegiate national championship had been a goal since Krauss’s freshman year, but she became disheartened after 2nd, 4th, and 5th place finishes. Just before her senior year, she was invited to attend a USA Cycling development camp, which would give her the opportunity to hone her technical skills and hopefully win that elusive national title. The only problem was that several of her friends had planned a biking trip across the country. Never one to pass up an adventure, Krauss opted to join her friends, even though it might mean sacrificing optimal fitness for the season ahead.

Apparently endurance gained from the cross-country tour paid off, and Krauss displayed remarkable improvement with first- and second-place showings at nearly every race of the season, including winning the Southeastern Conference Championship in the short track and the omnium. She reached the peak of her season at the Collegiate Nationals, which were held for the first time at nearby Lees McRae College in Banner Elk, N.C. The cross-country race, which consisted of 15 mud-filled, grueling miles through tough, technical terrain. Krauss led from start to finish to claim her first national title. Making the victory even sweeter was the fact that Krauss had finally beaten her long-time friend/nemesis, Kate Chapman of Colorado, who had denied her a victory at the 2005 Xterra World Championship. Two days later, after strong showings in the downhill and the short-track, Krauss was crowned national champion for the second time, this time in the women’s individual omnium.

Despite these tremendous performances, Krauss does not consider herself to be a natural talent. She has had to work hard to develop her technical skills and views her determination and dedication as her strongest assets. Unlike many college students who struggle out of bed to make their 11am classes, Krauss is up at dawn, getting in an hour-long run before her first class. Her days are filled with classes and labs as well as three hours a day working on the college’s forestry crew. She sneaks in a two-to-three hour ride each afternoon before settling into studying and writing lab reports. Long road trips to races are viewed as opportunities to catch up on her reading.

Krauss also helps manage the same trails that she loves to ride. Her workdays involve splitting wood, harvesting timber, and maintaining the more than 1,100 wooded acres of campus. She has also put in over 120 hours of volunteer work on area trails. Working on the trails that she will later ride has taught her a lot about trail ethics. She has a unique appreciation for the trails, noting the irony of spending an entire afternoon working on a section of trail that will later take her a mere six minutes to barrel down.

In the academic realm, Krauss’s undergraduate research analyzed urine samples from riders at the collegiate national race to determine if thrill-seeking athletes have higher levels of dopamine, postulating that this type of athlete may experience fear as pleasure and excitement, leading to an addiction not unlike that to cocaine. Would she describe herself as addicted? Her mother probably would, calling Krauss “crazy” for running outside on a dreary rainy day during a recent visit home to Ohio. To Krauss, however, getting in her daily workout is as normal as brushing her teeth, although technical riding brings a bit more of a rush than Colgate.

Krauss graduated a semester early in December but will likely remain a fixture on the on the trails of WNC.

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