Be­yond the Bro­ken Bones

Af­ter years of in­juries, Mi­randa Miller’s down­hill game is on the rise

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Tara Nolan

Af­ter years of in­juries, Mi­randa Miller’s down­hill game is on the rise The Squamish, B.C., rider had one of her strong­est years in 2016. Big changes in 2017 could send her to new heights

Look at a can­did pic­ture, or even a press photo, of Mi­randa Miller. You get a pretty good sense of the down­hill rider’s per­son­al­ity. Her sense of hu­mour comes through. Her strength. Her love of bikes (ob­vi­ously). She ap­pears to be one of those fun-lov­ing peo­ple who ev­ery­one wants to be friends with. Take a look at her In­sta­gram and other so­cial me­dia ac­counts, and you think “badass,” “fearless,” but also “sen­si­tive and car­ing.” It’s funny how so­cial me­dia can do that – it’s like this weird book that can re­veal a lot about a per­son, but then there are also pages miss­ing.

Miller seems com­fort­able and at ease with her­self. She’s not afraid to dis­cuss both her strengths and weak­nesses, while also prais­ing her team­mates and friends.

She’s one of those for­tu­nate peo­ple (if you’re into moun­tain bik­ing) who grew up on the West Coast (Pem­ber­ton, B.C., then Squamish), where rid­ing bikes is just an in­her­ent part of life in the moun­tains. She didn’t re­ally set out to race and only vaguely re­mem­bers that it was maybe her mother who sug­gested that Miller do a down­hill race in Pen­tic­ton be­cause she was go­ing there to visit a friend.

That need to com­pete caught on. Miller joined an af­ter-school coach­ing and rac­ing pro­gram. In March 2007, she headed to Fort Wil­liam for her first race as a ju­nior. Her ca­reer, though, got off to a rocky start with a se­ries of sea­so­nend­ing in­juries – 2007: bro­ken col­lar­bone; 2009: kid­ney fail­ure; 2010: bro­ken leg; 2013: bro­ken arm and two surg­eries to re­pair it; 2014: both arms bro­ken and three surg­eries; and 2015: bro­ken wrist. De­spite break­ing her wrist (again) at the be­gin­ning of 2016, she pulled off third place at Aus­tria’s 2016 Leogang uci moun­tain bike World Cup, first place at Crankworx (Gar­banzo DH women) and a bunch of top-10 fin­ishes on the World Cup and En­duro World Se­ries cir­cuit.

It takes a cer­tain type of drive and for­ti­tude to come back from in­jury and ex­cel. “It’s a hard mind­set to be in mul­ti­ple times in a row,” ad­mits Miller about her many re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods.

Ac­cord­ing to those who know her, Miller doesn’t per­ceive her in­juries as bar­ri­ers. “She loves rid­ing and com­pe­ti­tion and the process of im­prov­ing as an ath­lete and as a per­son so much that those in­juries be­come a part of the

process,” says Miller’s coach, Joel Har­wood of Blue­print Ath­lete Devel­op­ment. This year marks Har­wood’s first sea­son coach­ing Miller, but their paths had crossed a num­ber of times – the high-per­for­mance-fo­cused coach has been work­ing in the Sea-to-sky cor­ri­dor for more than a decade. As Har­wood ex­plains it, fi­nally their per­son­al­i­ties and vi­sions aligned. “I’ve al­ways sort of rooted for Mi­randa,” he says.

Miller had been with the same trainer for five years, but had ad­mired the style of train­ing her room­mate and boyfriend, pro moun­tain biker Rémi Gau­vin, and an­other room­mate, Lee Jack­son, were get­ting from Har­wood. For the 2017 sea­son, Har­wood has cre­ated a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram for Miller. They com­mu­ni­cate of­ten when she’s on the road and ride to­gether when she’s back in Squamish.

Prior to 2016, Miller hadn’t re­ally had the op­por­tu­nity to com­plete a full World Cup sea­son. “Whether me­chan­i­cals or in­jury, she’s had to take a harder road than the oth­ers who burst onto the scene sud­denly,” says Har­wood. “She’s beaten a lot of fast women through­out the years. She didn’t sud­denly find a new gear: she was able to re­main on that gear and build mo­men­tum she hadn’t had pre­vi­ously.”

While the pre­vi­ous year fea­tured a lot of on-bike suc­cess, it was also punc­tu­ated by a pro­found loss: the death of Ste­vie Smith. Miller and Smith grew up rac­ing to­gether since about the age of 13. Miller de­scribes Smith as the rider most like her­self, but at the same time he was that un­touch­able guy, a World Cup over­all cham­pion. “He proved to all of us that ev­ery­thing was pos­si­ble and played a large role not only in my rid­ing, but in Rémi’s rid­ing and the whole crew of Cana­di­ans.” It’s ev­i­dent that Smith’s pres­ence is still felt strongly more than a year af­ter his death.

For 2017, Miller has left be­hind rac­ing as a pri­va­teer to ride on the Spe­cial­ized Grav­ity Team for the World Cup Se­ries and a few En­duro World Se­ries events. which she en­joys be­cause of the strat­egy they in­volve through­out a few days of rid­ing.

Be­ing on a team el­e­vates her game. Gone are the days of mak­ing her way to a race any way she could, shar­ing costs with other rac­ers. Spe­cial­ized takes care

of all the de­tails, such as flights and trans­port­ing her bike. Miller doesn’t have to worry about any­thing other than show­ing up. “They have us all di­aled in at ev­ery race,” she says. “It makes life con­sid­er­ably eas­ier.”

Miller says this year her fo­cus is on con­sis­tency and pro­gres­sion. “I’m not putting much of a num­ber to it – I want to be mov­ing for­ward at each round. If I can be within grasp of the top five in down­hills, that’s where I want to be for this sea­son. I think that’s a re­al­is­tic spot to be.”

Watch­ing a DH race, it’s in­ter­est­ing to see the gaps start to close with the women’s times. While the men are of­ten hun­dredths of a sec­ond apart, there have been more ac­tual sec­onds be­tween many of the women com­peti­tors. “A ris­ing tide lifts all boats,” says Har­wood, de­scrib­ing racer Rachel Ather­ton’s dom­i­nance at the top of the women’s leader­board, es­pe­cially in 2016. “The re­al­ity is she has an ex­cel­lent pro­gram that she’s worked re­ally hard for; all the other women are in­spired by that and lift their game, as well, to con­tinue to push Rachel,” he says.

“It’s one of those things,” adds Miller. “She wins again and you’re like, ‘Go­dammit!’ Then you’re like, ‘There’s no rea­son why it can’t hap­pen for any of us.’”

While Miller doesn’t con­sider her­self to be out­wardly com­pet­i­tive, she does say that she’s pretty com­pet­i­tive with her­self. “Rac­ing, if it suits your per­son­al­ity, is a pretty ad­dict­ing thing – you al­ways want to do some­thing bet­ter than you did it be­fore,” she says. While she had a ner­vous start to her week­end in Lour­des, France, the first uci moun­tain bike World Cup of the sea­son, she says that through­out the race week­end, she felt her progress, im­prov­ing on her qual­i­fy­ing time by 10 sec­onds. “She is the most driven per­son I know,” says Gau­vin. “When she de­cides to go for some­thing, she goes all in.”

Miller is also en­joy­ing the com­pany and drive of her new Spe­cial­ized team­mates, fel­low Canuck Finn Iles and Loïc Bruni. (She calls them “Fifi” and “Lolo.” Miller is “Mimi.”)

Miller says she never felt like an odd­ity as a fe­male moun­tain biker, due in part to ge­og­ra­phy: ev­ery­one rides where she lives. She does say that if you take a look at the lineup at the Whistler Moun­tain Bike Park, it’s pretty evenly split be­tween male and fe­male rid­ers these days. It’s ob­vi­ous more women are get­ting into the sport. Miller says she hasn’t put much thought into the idea of “role model,” but Har­wood says the girls in Squamish are kind of awestruck by her. “I think the rea­son peo­ple grav­i­tate to­ward Mi­randa is her ap­proach­a­bil­ity,” ex­plains Har­wood, who de­scribes her as still be­ing that same goofy kid with a braid, crack­ing jokes and de­lib­er­ately ham­ming it up in pho­tos and me­dia re­leases.

Har­wood re­veals a bit more by re­count­ing a story from Miller’s youth when she found her way into a child­hood friend’s home and re­ar­ranged the con­tents of the kitchen. “She pranked the en­tire fam­ily, not just her friend – you can’t help but love it,” laughs Har­wood. “She’s that same per­son to­day – she’s look­ing for some­thing more orig­i­nal.”

Miller seems to be forg­ing her way through this new chap­ter, cre­at­ing new sto­ries – with a new coach, new team and re­newed strat­egy – di­vulging bits and pieces of her suc­cess and the ob­sta­cles she faces on her so­cial me­dia ac­counts along the way.

“She’s a char­ac­ter you want to pull for,” says Har­wood. “She’s a great racer, but an even bet­ter per­son.”

top uci moun­tain bike World Cup in Leogang, Aus­tria, 2016

above

Miller is no stranger to rid­ing through in­jury. Here she gets taped up be­fore the World Cup at Lour­des, France, 2017.

op­po­site

Lour­des World Cup, 2017

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