Leah Goldstein was not your typical little girl. At the age of six, she announced to her long-suffering parents that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her idol Bruce Lee and study martial arts. They told her she had to wait until she was at least nine, hoping that by then she would surely have outgrown the phase. But Leah reminded them of their promise on her ninth birthday and shortly thereafter enrolled in tae kwon do lessons in her hometown of Vancouver, BC. Just five years later, she had earned her black belt as National Junior Champion.
Switching to kickboxing, she went on to take the Canadian Women’s Bantamweight title in that sport by age fifteen. Fighting not only her opponents in the ring, but also her fair share of predictable male chauvinism outside of it, Leah handled both battles with perseverance and class. She remained focused, trained tirelessly and without losing a single fight in events across North America, all while juggling high school classes, became World Bantamweight Kickboxing Champion in 1987. On her way to a potential Hong Kong-based movie career, under negotiation by her longtime coach, she chose instead to take the less obvious road yet again and joined the Israeli army.
Joining the official Canadian National Cycling team within just two years of returning to Canada, she could soon be found on podiums throughout North America and Europe. In 2002, Israel offered her an Olympic scholarship to represent its flag at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Leah joined the newly formed Israeli National Team, but less than a month before the Olympics, suffered a crash at Pennsylvania’s Tour de Toona, during which she broke her right hand, abruptly ending her season.
Undaunted, she came back stronger than ever the following year, winning virtually every race she entered. But bad luck would strike again, this time in the form of a near fatal crash during the first stage of the 2005 Cascade Classic in central Oregon. Leah was clipped by another rider on a 70km/hr descent and landed face first on the asphalt, with several other cyclists falling on top of her. Her injuries included a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, a broken cheek, ankle and right arm, a dislocated and broken shoulder, the loss of 5 teeth and near loss of the tip of her left thumb and her top lip, as well as severe road rash over most of her body. She spent two weeks receiving multiple surgeries in a hospital in Bend before she could be moved back home to Vancouver, where she was again admitted to hospital for further observation.
Doctors said it was a miracle she had survived the impact. At the very least, the accident would have ended the career of most athletes. But not Leah’s. Determined as ever to prove wrong physicians, sports psychologists and those in the cycling community who told her she would never ride again, much less on a professional level, she began to train the second she was released from the hospital.
Exactly three weeks after the crash, stubborn as ever and with only partial use of her left leg and arm, she completed her first lap around her former high school’s track in her wheelchair, having convinced her mom and sister to take her there despite their protests. Another week later, she was up to 12 wheelchair laps and a thirteenth tentative one on a crutch. The following week saw her spinning on a stationary recumbent bike for five minutes at the gym and within two months of the accident, she was walking with crutches and was up to level 16 on a LifeCycle stationary bike. By October, she was back on her road bike.
Leah’s doctors were astounded by her rapid and remarkable recovery, but the cycling industry was still skeptical. No one would sign her, so she decided to go it alone in 2006, making it her best year to date, with 12 major wins, including two record-breaking hill climbs, an overall win at the prestigious Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and the first of four consecutive Israeli National Championship titles. It had become abundantly clear by now to all those involved that you don’t tell Leah Goldstein what she can and cannot do. It wasn’t long before she began to get offers from professional teams again.
In the fall of 2009, at her first official ultra endurance race, the Furnace Creek 508 in California, Leah was the only woman to finish under the worst conditions in the event’s history. Battling headwinds gusting up to 60mph during an arduous overnight traverse of Death Valley, she crossed the finish line in 6th place overall, with a time faster than even the majority of the relay teams.
Leah recently completed the infamous Race Across America. Dubbed “the World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” the formidable 3000 mile course took her from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD in June of 2011. Almost half of the solo riders typically never finish the race, but Leah won Best Overall Female, Best in Age Group, Queen of the Mountains, Queen of the Prairies, and Rookie of the Year, despite suffering from a debilitating case of Shermer’s Neck after Day 4, a condition under which the neck muscles give out, making it impossible to hold up the head without assistance.
For more on Leah, see her website from which this posting is excerpted.