Vic Armijo / Pratt, Kansas (at Starvin’ Marvin’s)
June 19, 2011, 5:55p.m. EST
In all of my years of being involved with the Race Across America I’ve met dozens of racers. Each and every one of them has been an interesting story—anyone with the desire, tenacity and ability to want to challenge themselves to such a degree is exceptional in my book. And then there’s Leah Goldstein, the solo female RAAM leader who has been keeping a pace that would best a large percentage of the solo male field. Leah goes far beyond “interesting.” In the past few days I’ve met most of her crew members and her father and without exception each and every one of them, when describing Leah have used the word “amazing.” Yeah, that fits Leah.
For the moment, forget about RAAM. Forget about bicycles entirely, and this woman is still, in a word, amazing. Her story is one of extreme challenges and accomplishments. Crew member Lori Moger, a gym owner in Vancouver, described meeting Leah “She walked into my gym to ask to be a trainer for me and I asked her to tell me about herself, ‘Well, I was Canadian tae Kwon Do champion at 14, Canadian Kickboxing Champion at 15, World Kickboxing champion at 18, was in the Israeli Commandos, was one of only two women to successfully complete the grueling Course Madaseem, the first woman to train commandos.’ Yeah, she’s amazing,” Moger concluded.
There’s more, here’s an excerpt from the bio on her website, www.leahgoldstein.com, “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.”
Amazed? Okay, now on to her cycling. Leah began cycling while still in the army, and took the Israel Duathalon Championship. She got her first taste of ultra encurance cycling when she broke the record for riding from Metula, Israel to Eilat in a mostly unsupported ride. In 1996, on a visit back to her home country of Canada, Leah met a coach from the road racing team and soon began a pro cycling career. That career nearly ended in 201 at the Redlands Classic race in California when a driver ran a stop sign and hit her, resulting in compound fractures to both arms. Moger described the incident, “She said that when she stopped sliding she saw one arm was compound fractured and reached over with the other arm and saw bone sticking out of that one too and so she though ‘I’ll just wait.’” True to form, following surguries and while still in casts, Leah continued to train. First she ran, then she pedaled a stationary trainer with her arms supported on pillows. A mere four months after her injuries Leah entered the Race Across Oregon, won the female solo category and took second overall against all riders in the 520 mile event. Yeah, there’s that word again…AMAZING!
How is she able to do all of this? “She’s so mentally tough. She’s just really focused,” Moger said, “When she trains she doesn’t ever spin lightly, she just puts the hammer down all the time. So what she’s doing here on RAAM, that’s her normal pace. That’s how she rides. She’s a masher, in life and on a bicycle.” That focus is evident when we see her on the road, head down, eyes straight ahead, her face usually expressionless.” According to her follow car driver, Rob Martin, that’s Leah’s way, “She likes the solitude of RAAM. She doesn’t listen to music. She just gets in her own zone and likes to concentrate. She really doesn’t like us talking too her too much or cheering for her as she goes by. She’ll wave or smile sometimes or she’ll tell us on the radio that she needs something. But for the most part she’d prefer keeping to herself. Just getting in the zone and staying.” Which isn’t to say she’s entirely stoic. Moger related, “She’s still joking around with us, making fun of us, squirting water at us. I’m impressed. For how little sleep she’s gotten she’s still really with it. Joking around with us is a good sign. And earlier today as the Mighty Media 1 van we drove alongside shooting photos and video, she suddenly looked over at us and said, “I want you to know that even though I’m quiet, I’m having fun—the time of my life!” “You’re even smiling,” I joked to her, And indeed she was, obviously enjoying her day in Kansas. “That’s good,” I said, “Because I’ve seen plenty of RAAM racers cry, “Well that could still happen,” she shrugged and then returned to her straight ahead gaze, concentrating on the task at hand.