Crystal Sawatzky after running Stage 9

STORY AND VIDEO: Running with tutus

Crystal Sawatzky talks Rupert Runners, tutus, and falling in love in Prince Rupert.




The city draws a transient population, with people who find temporary industry jobs, seasonal fisherman, people who put in their time in a remote northern community as a teacher, police officer or nurse early in their career.

Then there are the people who come for a visit or for a short work stint and never leave.

Crystal Sawatzky is the latter. She was once a Canadian nomad, bouncing from Steinbach, Manitoba, to the B.C. interior then to Vancouver Island, back to Manitoba, onto Redcliff, Alberta, then she worked at a ski hill in Penticton and then she returned back to Manitoba to attend college to be an accountant.

Prince Rupert only appeared on her radar when her dad, Michael, came to run the performing arts centre. Sawatzky visited him in 2005.

“I stayed because I met a boy, bought a house, got a good job, and I’m like well, this is where I am now,” she said breaking into her distinctive laugh.

Sawatzky is content staying put with her Rupertite companion but she continues to grow as she pushes her own boundaries as well as others in the community as the vice-president of the Rupert Runners club.

This year, she coordinated the Rupert Runners Learn to Run clinic in its biggest year yet. The club didn’t put a cap on how many people could register for the first time. By the end of the registration 116 people had signed up to go from the “couch to 10km” in 13 weeks.

“It’s incredible. It makes me emotional,” Sawatzky said with misty eyes when asked what it means to her to watch approximately 40 people complete the program. “I see the progress after even four to five weeks when we jump up to five minutes running and people are like, ‘I didn’t think I could run for five minutes straight’.”

The goal is to run the Crest Glory Days race on May 7 and this year was a doozy with the city waking up to torrential rain. Still, runners came out, and Sawatzky organized the race with Jamie Wessel to see goals met and the running community grow.

Some of the woman in the couch to 10km have committed to running the Vancouver SeaWheeze 21-kilometre half-marathon in August. Sawatzky is joining them, and she’s also signed up for her first full marathon in Victoria this October.

“My goal is to just finish one in my lifetime, like a bucket list,” she said. On her long run days she’s does what most other long distance runners do in the city, run along the highway and then run back, going further each week.

Sawatzky blends in with the other weekend runners along the highway, but on race day it’s almost impossible to miss her. She dons a layered pink, orange and yellow tutu and carries an infectious energy even after powering up a hill for the ninth leg of the Skeena River Relay.

The colourful runner is also a professional accountant and recently became the vice-chair of the Chartered Professional Accountants in B.C. in the Pacific North West Chapter. She started working for the Credit Union earlier this year and said she enjoys the change from working in public practice.

There is also a theatrical side to Sawatzky — which mainly comes from her father who used to bring her with him when he was involved in theatre at the University of Manitoba. She’s not trained as an actor or singer but she still participates with bubbling enthusiasm.

Two years ago she was in the chorus for Les Misérables and this year she played a transvestite stripper named Candy in The Rock Of Ages. She had two lines that she lip-synced to a man’s voice and she didn’t tell her father or anyone else, except for her best friend, about her character for the shock effect.

“My dad was like, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ after the show,” she said laughing at the memory.

She also met her boyfriend, Jeff Bill — the man with two first names — while putting together a dessert theatre show at the Harbour Theatre. After rehearsals and their first show, they got to know each other and, “a week later decided we were meant to be,” Sawatzky said. Two months later, they moved in together and they bought a house two years ago.

It doesn’t seem as though Sawatzky is leaving Prince Rupert any time soon. She’s set her roots here and she continues to bring a frilly-tutu kind of energy to the running community.

Her advice to beginner runners, “It doesn’t matter how fast you are as long as you’re getting out there.”