In the late evening of June 26th, fifty-two year old cyclist Leah Goldstein was pushing her bike. She was less than 3 miles from winning Race Across America; just 5 kilometers from perhaps the most important finish line in her storied career.
She just couldn’t turn the pedals anymore. So, she did what any head-strong, tough-as-nails competitor would do. She started walking.
During the previous 10+ days, she rode that bike through 120-degree deserts, over 100,000 feet of climbing, through lightning storms and against prairie winds. Leah rode so well in fact, she stayed at or near the front the entire 3,050 miles.
Widely touted as the toughest race in the world, cyclists must cross the United States in a maximum of 13 days (12 for men).
There are no rules on how much athletes must stop or sleep, so solo riders often spend 21 hours or more in the saddle each day. Crews provide support along the way – handing out food, drinks, medical care and navigation. In a typical year, 25-35% of the solo field drops out. But not this year. With punishing temperatures that reached over 130 on the asphalt, the RAAM solo riders seemed to drop like flies.
“I’ve never experienced heat like that,” Leah said after the race. “My back burned even through my jersey! Thankfully I had an experienced crew that worked really hard to keep me moving forward.”
Each stage of RAAM presents challenges, and Leah seemed to just keep persevering. Sleep deprivation, saddle sores, swollen limbs, blisters, and more are just part of the game. “I don’t really ever consider quitting as an option. I just try to focus on what I can do at any given moment, and sometimes that is just keep pedaling.”
Leah led the race on and off until Pennsylvania, when her closest competitor dropped out. She rode hard toward the finish, excited to be the first woman to ever win the race.
But, just a few miles from the finish, she began to have a rapid heart rate and was feeling an onset of dizziness. “I had to keep laying down in the grass," she said, recalling the experience. "My crew was really concerned and considered calling an ambulance. But I just had to finish. I felt too wobbly to control my bike, so what else could I do? I started walking.”
Within a few hundred meters of the finish line, her heart rate calmed and she was able to coast across the line to the hoots and cheers from the crowd.
“The finish line was just incredible,” Leah said about the ceremonial finish at the Annapolis City Dock. “So many people came out to witness it – Mom’s brought their daughters, and everyone wanted photos. It was really special.”
The next day, Leah went back to the finish line to congratulate the only other two finishers of the year. “It was great to swap stories and give kudos to those guys as well. Anyone who survived this year is a champion in my book.”
When asked how it felt to make history, Leah shrugged it off. “RAAM is a beast. And each year, it’s a new monster. This year, I was able to slay the dragon.”
Leah Goldstein, a former World Champion kickboxer, Israeli Commando Trainer and professional cyclist, shares her inspirational story as a keynote speaker. You can find her memoir (No Limits) and learn more about her at www.leahgoldstein.com.
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