A LIFE WITHOUT LIMITS – THE LEAH GOLDSTEIN STORY
Leah Goldstein – Living A Life Without Limits
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.
Leah, who had been conceived in Israel, but was born in Canada shortly after her parents immigrated in 1969, had always felt an attachment to her ancestral homeland, which she had visited frequently in her youth and where many of her relatives continue to reside. Although she, as a dual citizen, was not legally required to perform the mandatory two year military service, she felt compelled to enlist nonetheless. Leah quickly excelled within the military ranks and was fast-tracked through a more intensive basic training to graduate as a sergeant. She was one of only two women to successfully complete the notoriously grueling Course Madaseem, a form of commando training, proceeding to become a trainer to elite special units in Krav Maga, a type of self defense for soldiers. Seeking to do more field work herself rather than instruct others, Leah eventually decided she wanted to transition to the police force. Her trademark determination and persistence once again paid off in dealing with those who told her that there was no room for women in certain divisions of the security forces. She became the only woman out of about thirty recruits to graduate from a special new program, to which she was only admitted after appealing directly to the then chief of police of the country to give her a chance. She once again surpassed all expectations and went on to work undercover in Narcotics as well Security and Intelligence services, eventually becoming an instructor to high officials and field workers in the main police headquarters in Haifa.
Throughout her time in the army and police force, Leah had begun to compete in various running and cycling events and later became Israel’s Duathalon Champion. Just prior to joining the police academy, she broke the cross country cycling record from Metula in the north to Eilat in the south on her second, mostly unsupported attempt. She completed the journey in just over seventeen hours, in what could be seen as her first taste of ultra endurance cycling. She was hooked. In 1996, on a visit back to Canada, Leah met a coach from the country’s National Development Team for road racing. It was not long before she was on the path to a pro cycling career. Continuing to work as a police trainer in Israel in the off season for a number of years, Leah would also become instrumental in the development of a national cycling team for that country.
She pursued cycling with the same dedication and tenacity with which she had approached her previous endeavours. 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 Life Cycle stationary bike. By October, she was back on her road bike.
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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.
Two more stellar years followed, but by the end of 2008, Leah began to feel that maybe it was time to move on. Having been virtually undefeated on the BC provincial level for years and having won many of the most prestigious races on the NRC and international circuits, she knew that she had hit her peak and should perhaps start to contemplate retirement from pro racing. As with kickboxing some twenty years earlier, there was nowhere to go but down and she wanted to end her career on a high note. She had been considering a change in focus toward ultra endurance racing for a while now. For the time being, her team was doing well and she wasn’t quite ready to quit, but the motivation, hunger and excitement that had kept her going in the past was no longer there in the same way – she knew she would have to make a transition in the near future. She had never been much of a sprinter and particularly since the accident, she had become nervous in packs and on steep, fast descents. Known throughout her career for breaking away from the pack and finishing solo, she had always particularly thrived on stage races with long, difficult climbs, requiring considerable stamina. Ultra racing seemed perfectly suited for her.
In retrospect, one might assume that Leah would wish she had made the decision to quit at the end of the 2008 season. But Leah is not one to look backward. Unfortunately, the final decision would be made for her a year and a half later, by yet another crash. But not before another win at the Israeli Nationals in 2009 as well as a 1st and 2nd placement at the Maccabiah Games, the world’s third largest sporting event, also known as the “Jewish Olympics.”In the fall of that year, at her first official ultra endurance race, the 2009 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.
The beginning of the 2010 season brought the incident that would precipitate the end Leah’s pro racing career once and for all. Crossing an intersection during a warm-up for Stage 2 of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Leah was hit by a car, snapping her right arm and severely crushing her left. Once again, it didn’t take her long to get back in the saddle, but this time she knew for sure that her heart was no longer in pro racing. Following yet more surgeries, with casts on both arms, she began to run, then ride her trainer propped up with pillows on the handlebars. Almost exactly four months to the day of the accident, Leah would take the solo female title for the 520 mile Race Across Oregon, coming in second overall and cementing her new position on the ultra endurance circuit.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. Leah is always looking forward to new adventures and challenges!trickscentral.org
When not busy going on 15 hour training rides, Leah can currently be found working as a personal trainer and motivational speaker in the interior of British Columbia. Leah recently collaborated with a ghostwriter on her autobiography.
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