Leah Goldstein laughs when I suggest that she is the real Bionic Woman and even Lindsay Wagner who starred in the popular 70s TV show would probably agree. “I’ve had almost every bone in my body broken – I should be dead – several times in fact!” she chuckles.
Like a cat with nine lives, the former World Kickboxing Champion, Undercover Israeli Police Officer and Ultra Endurance Cycling Champion turned motivational speaker, is also the author of No Limits with Lori Friend Moger.
If her book about her life reads like a Mission Impossible film don’t be surprised. It’s been optioned and the Weinstein Company is interested.
Goldstein spoke to me from her hometown of Vernon, British Columbia, best known as Canada’s Okanagan wine country. It’s the driest and hilliest terrain in Canada for super cyclists like Goldstein. She is bluntly candid about her life; the loneliness, lack of long-term relationships and the terrible toll it took on her body.
“You have to be so selfish to be a top athlete,” she readily admits. “You’re training all the time and if a relationship started to take me off track, I just dropped it.”
If there are chromosomes for Xtreme Sports and living on the edge, Goldstein has got them in double digits. When it came to “fight or flight” she always chose the former and was her harshest critic which seemed to be what propelled her forward. Goldstein’s survival instincts and ability to overcome adversity may be a case of the apple falling not far from the tree, but to her, success came from “plain old hard work.”
Her maternal grandparents emigrated from Russia to what is now known as Yining, China in the 1920s. When Communism arrived in the 50s and they lost their prosperous business, the only way they could escape with their children was to disguise themselves as Chinese, load their luggage into two rickshaws and talk a pilot at the airport into flying them to Shanghai. There the family waited four years to be approved by the Israeli Embassy to be flown to Israel.
Growing up in Beit Hillel in Northern Israel, Ahoova, Goldstein’s mother, learned to swim by just jumping into the Jordan River on a dare, very nearly drowning. Extremely talented in sports, she competed in the school long jump, broke her leg and then ran in the team relay. “My mother never used phrases like ‘maybe you shouldn’t ’ or ‘are you sure?’” explains Goldstein. “No matter what I asked or proposed to do with my life, she has always replied ‘of course you can.’ ” “She is wild and hard -headed like me, and she’s still my best friend,” she confides.
Dov, Goldstein’s paternal grandfather survived the Holocaust by hiding on the top floor of an abandoned building in the Warsaw Ghetto with his family and friends. When the Germans came, he wedged himself between two walls while everyone else jumped out the window to their deaths. He eventually married and moved to Israel.
Goldstein’s parents and older sister immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 1968 where Leah was born a few months later. “My parents came with next to nothing but worked extremely hard.”
“Growing up, my English was terrible, I had a lisp and one of my legs was shorter than the other and caused a lot of pain. I was a terrible target for teasing,” Goldstein recalls, “even though I was an incredibly active kid.”
Her salvation came in the form of martial arts film star, Bruce Lee, whom she worshipped. Goldstein begged her parents to let her study Tae Kwon Do, then kickboxing. “My father was a good boxer in his day and had a heavy bag in the garage where he started teaching me how to punch,” says Goldstein. “I had already decided at seven- years- old that I wanted to join the Israeli Military and become a Mossad agent.”
By age 15, Goldstein had become the Canadian Kickboxing Champion; at 17 she was the World Kickboxing Champion and at 18 she moved to Israel and enlisted in the Israeli Military. She was one of very few women to be chosen as an instructor in the Elite Commando division teaching Krav Maga, then transitioned into a Special Forces Unit combating terrorism and violent crimes.
“Because I had dyed my hair blond and spoke English, I would pose as a UN inspector and knock on doors in the territories before the rest of the Unit appeared. The Arab wives would invite me in and offer me tea and cakes but it was really dangerous,” says Goldstein.
Throughout her time in the army and breaking the glass ceiling in a notoriously sexist Israeli police force, Goldstein had begun to compete in various running and cycling events and later became Israel’s Duathalon Champion. She was hooked.
“But I felt so burnt-out dealing with stress and violence every day, I decided to go back to Canada, says Goldstein. After racing in Europe in the Women’s Tour de France with Canada’s National Development Squad amongst others, in 2004 Israel offered her an Olympic scholarship to represent its flag at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Goldstein joined the newly formed Israeli National Team, but less than a month before the Olympics, suffered a crash at Pennsylvania’s Tour de Toona, during which she broke her right hand, abruptly ending her season.
Although Goldstein would come back with a vengeance racing in Europe for seven years and North America for another seven, two horrific crashes would finally force her to make a permanent career change. In 2005’s Cascade Classic in central Oregon, she was clipped by another rider on a 70km/hr descent and landed face first on the asphalt, with several other cyclists falling on top of her. Her injuries included a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, a broken cheek, ankle and right arm, a dislocated and broken shoulder, the loss of 5 teeth and near loss of the tip of her left thumb and her top lip. Doctors said it was a miracle she survived and told her she’d never ride again.
She started her rehab doing wheelchair laps three weeks after being released from the hospital! Six months later Goldstein was back in the saddle again with 12 major wins in 2006.
In 2011 Leah Goldstein competed in RAAM – dubbed “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” the formidable 3000 -mile course took her from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland. Almost half of the solo riders typically never finish . Suffering from a debilitating case of Shermer’s Neck in which the neck muscles give out, her crew had to shave the back of her head and tape it to her back in order for her to hold up her head while racing! Goldstein won Best Overall Female, Best in Age Group, Queen of the Mountains, Queen of the Prairies, and Rookie of the Year.
Goldstein’s swan song in 2012 was The Race Across the West (RAW), 860 rugged miles from Oceanside, California to Durango, Colorado. She placed 1st in the Solo Women’s division and 2nd overall, beating the previous record by 8 hours.
“When people told me that I really inspired them to try something they never thought was possible, I realized that giving back to someone is the most satisfying for me and really makes me feel alive.” She and business partner, Lori Friend Moger created the company, No Finish Line Living that offers her services as a motivational speaker and personal trainer.
“I realize now that with everything I’ve accomplished, it was always the challenge to get there – I didn’t give a rat’s ass about actually winning,”
TOP PHOTO: Leah Goldstein’s inspiring autobiography, “No Limits.” Cover photo: Dina Goldstein
NOTE: The editor is not related to Leah Goldstein except she does enjoy riding her bicycle along the Vancouver seawall…