4 years ago, a broken clavicle ruined her chances of possibly competing in her first Olympics in London as an alternate for the Canadian Women’s Cycling Team. And later that year, Winnipegger Leah Kirchmann also had to deal with the passing away of her grandmother Fran Weiss, who was her idol growing up.
But Sunday Morning at 10:30am our time, the 26 year old Vincent Massey Grad will be “back in the saddle” so to speak- peddling for Canada in what will be a grueling 3 1/2 hour or so test of endurance during the Olympic Women’s Road Race at the south end of Copacabana Beach.
It will fulfill a lifelong goal that began for Leah at a very young age.
“When I really started to think about racing, that’s when I was 13 and join the Kids in Mud program in Winnipeg. It’s a really cool program where you get together and learn skills and there’s little races. After a few sessions there I was pretty hooked on the sport right away,” said Kirchmann.
After Kids in Mud, Leah joined the Alter Ego Cycling Club- which led to her selection to Manitoba Provincial Teams coached by Marian Pischuk, who she credits for recognizing her ability at an early age. And all the while Kirchmann played high school team sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer – as well as “two other pursuits of passion.”
“I was a cross country skier primarily growing up and then cycling came into with the mountain biking and road as a form of cross training. Then I found myself competing year round with skiing in the winter and then both mountain and road biking in the summer. In 2008, I moved out to the west coast to take part in a training centre ski team and also start my first year university. It was a lot to still be doing three sports and university. And so that was the year I decided, okay I need to choose a sport to channel all my focus into and that’s when I really decided on road racing and to just go 100% of that and see how far I could go,” said Kirchmann.
An example of that level of commitment- Leah gave up her grad ceremony in that late spring of 2008 to compete at the Jr World Women’s Road race in Capetown, South Africa.
“I did both the mountain bike world championships and road championships in the same year, back in 2008. I didn’t win the junior championships, but that was my first taste of international competition. After that I knew it was something I want to get better at and I wanted to travel the world and see how far I could go with it, said Kirchmann”
And travel the world she has. After being “scouted “as a pro racer in Vancouver. Kirchmann was signed by a team in Italy. And a career highlight, 3rd place finish in the 2014 Women’s Tour De France earned her a contract with Dutch based Liv Plantur – who she recently signed a 2 year extension with.
Leah does have an apartment just outside of Hamilton in Dundas, Ontario- but spends most of the cycling season from late January to Mid-October in Sittard, The Netherlands which is in the southern region of the country, with the German border to the east and Belgium to the south.
Leah has a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Public Health Nutrition from Quest University in Squamish. And one day plans on gaining even more education in the fields of Public Health and Epidemiology- the study of how disease spreads- and is controlled.
This Ambassador for “Fast and Female” – an organization that empowers young girls through sport, is the eldest child of proud parents Rob- who is a business consultant with Manitoba Hydro and a pretty decent athlete in his own right- and Gina an occupational therapist for special needs kids.
Younger brother Shaun is studying to become a marine biologist and her youngest sibling, Julian is in Fine Arts.
Sunday Morning the focus will be on Leah as she competes in what she describes as the “less predictable” of the two cycling events.
“Tactics definitely come into in a lot more compared to a time trial. A time trial basically you’re just riding as hard as you can by yourself. You can’t draft or use your competitors for an advantage, you’re just trying to cover the course as fast as possible. Whereas a road race, you’re racing in a pack, it’s really dynamic, you choose your moments to attack and there’s a lot more team tactics in play there.”
3:35:29 was the winning time for Marianne Vos of the Netherlands on a rainy, wet course in London 4 years ago. But Kirchmann is taking a pragmatic approach to Rio.
I want to go there and compete to the best of my abilities and whatever result that ends up with then I can’t be disappointed. If I feel I’ve given everything that I have in that race then I can be satisfied with however it goes.”
One thing we know for sure, Leah won’t be going to Brazil without two very important items.
“I always like to travel with my own coffee and my own pour over contraption, so I can always have the same coffee where ever I go. We go on coffee rides, you have a recovery day, ride to a coffee shop hangout for a bit then head home. It’s my favorite recovery day activity.”
What better place to be for a coffee lover- than Brazil.
Who knows, maybe late Sunday Afternoon- Leah Kirchmann will have reason to celebrate- over her favourite cup of Java.