Lessons From a World Downhill Mountain Biking Champion

Santa Ana’s Leigh Donovan teaches women to conquer their fears

Photograph by Craig Glaspell

The retired world downhill mountain biking champion is on a mission to get working moms, closet adventure girls, and simply more women to try the sport of mountain biking. Through her organization, I Choose Bikes, the Santa Ana resident uses her 22 years of experience to lead private and group classes to educate, inspire, and give women the confidence to start enjoying the ride. Says Donovan: “The so-called ‘boys’ club’ no longer rules the bike industry.”

How have gender dynamics changed?
Today men and women have aligned for the greater good—that bikes will make our world a healthier, cleaner, and happier place.
Then what’s holding women back?
They tend to be more cautious, harder on themselves, and think mountain biking is scary. I teach skills that chip away at what scares them so they can become more confident on and off the bike.
Can girls get involved, too?
I believe girls are held back, and told they can’t do this or that—usually the parents aren’t willing to let them try. If we stop saying “can’t” we just might experience life with new opportunities.
You have a 9-year-old daughter. Does she ride?
Her passions are singing and dancing, but she’s a really good biker. As we rode from the top of Mammoth Mountain, she sang all the way down, and I thought, “She may be getting a Grammy one day, and the next day winning the downhill world championships.”

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