I first met Leigh in Québec at a race in Mont Ste. Anne back in the mid-nineties. She was on my left in the red lane and I was on her right. Both our wheels placed behind the wands, nervously waiting and anticipating the green light. Leigh shot out like a bat out of hell while I, sadly, slipped a pedal and realized that maybe, just maybe, I should have practiced a bit more before racing the big leagues at the World Cup level.
This summer I had another chance to meet Leigh at the Whistler stop for Crankworx and within a few minutes we openly talked about racing, life after racing and family life. It is humbling to think that, in addition to racing, Leigh and I have much in common. I understood her transition between being an athlete and leading a ‘regular’ life.
Thank you Leigh for being there for the many young girls and women entering our sport and for being an excellent role model. Not only are a rock-star I’m quite certain you could still kick my butt in a race.
CG: What was the trigger for you to leave pro racing to transition into the next stage of your life?
LD: If I’m being honest it was a combination of the stress of race weekends, the heavy risk involved of putting yourself on the line every race, and the need to know what else I was capable of doing…after being an athlete for 20 years, racing both BMX and MTB bikes, I wanted to know more of who I was as a person and not just an athlete.
CG: Can you briefly talk about how you felt when you knew it was the right time to get back into the bike industry?
LD: After spending almost 10 years in the fashion industry owning and operating a contemporary women’s fashion boutique, I would always be more excited to spend my summer vacations riding in Whistler and (sometimes) racing at Crankworx. After my 2009 summer in Whistler, I knew bikes were just my thing and more than anything that bike people were who I most connected with. I personally loved my retail business but I had known I was missing something in the fashion industry and in 2009 it was like the stars aligned and I just knew I needed to find my way back to bikes. In 2011, I closed my business and began testing the waters back in the bike industry until I figured out what I wanted to do next.
CG: I watched you ride this week and it doesn’t look like you have skipped a beat. With the sport evolving (bigger jumps and drops), how do you feel at this stage after being away from pro racing? In my case I felt that I lost some confidence due to a young family and other commitments taking priority and only in the last year or so my skill level and confidence has increased due to having more time to ride trails. Did you have a similar experience?
LD: I spent many years where I could count the amount of times I rode my bike on 2 hands and during those years I was more cautious and even challenged to ride trails that I should have found easy. However, in 2014 when I started teaching I found through teaching my skills improved (along with my riding confidence), I’m not faster but definitely more calculated. I still don’t ride as much as I’d like to but I’m glad it looks like I haven’t skipped a beat…but I’m definitely slower in reaction time and race fitness than I was 15 years ago…but I loved being out there chasing some of the best riders in our sport!
CG: How do you balance parenthood with current career and riding bikes?
LD: My life is a constant juggling act, so honestly I’m surviving not really balancing. My daughter is the priority and then everything else falls into place from there. My main tool of organization is my google calendar which allows the communication between the family to happen more easily (shared calendars for everyone), I try to do laundry on the same days every week, I cook almost all the meals, so I try and make the same meals each day. When I’m not traveling life is a little more manageable so I love those three weeks each month, the one week (sometimes two) I travel every month does throw my routine off and while it still hasn’t gotten easier after three years, I am learning to be more prepared when I leave now. I think like life, balancing everything takes a lot of work and if you have it down please share it with me 🙂
CG: What is your main type of riding now, XC, DH, BMX, Road?
LD: I’d say 60% of my riding is XC, 35% DH, and 5% road…I’m actually riding BMX this Saturday but it will be the only time probably this year I’ll ride at the track.
CG: What do you do for a living now?
LD: In 2013 I noticed a need for women mountain bike coaches and during an executive camping trip, I offered a clinic to all the riders. The riders thought I was really good and encouraged me to look into a business of some sort. After putting a business plan together I realized that I might be able to swing it and so I launched ichoosebikes in 2014 with help from partners Liv Cycling, SRAM, Rock Shox, Troy Lee Designs, CamelBak, WD-40, and Clif Bar. At that time I had 5 calendar events organizing and hosting MTB “women only” events, this year I have 12 events on my calendar and am just wrapping up my second skills video series for mountain biking. I put out a 101 skills series (focused on beginner skills) last year and my 201 series will be more focused on sport to intermediate skills, which comes out in mid- September. And I am also pursing my college degree. Tomorrow I start my 6th semester part-time and while it’s going to take me 10 more semesters to get my undergrad in business, I’m hopeful I get there!
CG: Aside from Crankworx, are you competitively racing still? Any plans to continue competing?
LD: I do a race or two a year but nothing more, I wouldn’t call it competitive, but I am a racer at heart and still have some bike talent left in the tank so to speak. Racing at Crankworx this year was nothing more than a chance to hang out with the new talent along with some of my friends that still race. I loved being there and having that feeling of racing into the finish and the crowd cheering…I was a lucky competitor because a lot of people liked me and would always cheer for me…I don’t get that feeling much as a wife or mom, so when I need it you’ll see me out there 🙂
Cécile is a freelance action and portrait photographer living in North Vancouver, BC. Honing her skills from riding all sorts of bikes, her photographs are a fusion of Fine Art and Action to create vivid, exciting and engaging images. Her work has been featured in exhibitions, and has been published in national magazines. For more of Cécile’s work please visit www.cecilegambin.com