A Soliloquy of The Working Mountain Biker
August 22 — 2019 | Whistler, BC
Holding Down a Job Is Just What We Do
Sarah Leishman is a Juliana Ambassador and among of the fiercest mountain bikers out there. From professional racer to brand evangelist, Sarah is Juliana family.
You can catch her riding her new Joplin in the Squamish backcountry.
I got my first job when I was 16 years old. My dad wanted me out of the house (and out of trouble around town) for the summer and pushed me into applying at a summer camp as an assistant counsellor. The outdoor recreation camp (called YoWoChAs – for the YWCA) hosted 5-day overnights for kids of all ages and was my intro to full-time employment. The salary for the job was a $400/summer ‘honorarium’ and I felt rich for the first time ever. It was also my first time obsessing over the new bike my paycheck might afford me.
Since then, I’ve never not had a job and I’ve never not aspired to be a better mountain biker. When I worked at YoWoChAs on Wabamun Lake in Alberta, I found a way to prioritize riding my bike with the limited free time I had available. Once I finally replaced my adolescent smoking habit with my affinity for mountain bikes, I would try to escape summer camp HQ for gravel laps on my hand-me-down old red hardtail (with SRAM GripShift and the original RockShox Judy on it – SO COOL). From about 16 to 20 years old, I spent my summers being both relatively terrible at my job and at mountain biking, which was a non-issue at the time. I was so completely insecure about my body and general self as a teenager that my egregious lack of skill on a bike and in my work didn’t even register. Still, there was never a doubt in my mind that I needed to continue to work and ride for the rest of my life.
After my lackluster summer camp counselling career, I spent time as a snowboard instructor, coach and outdoor recreation leader for bike classes to high school kids in the super flat, uninspiring River Valley trails of Edmonton, Alberta. I loved mountain biking, even though I knew nothing of riding a proper mountain bike on an actual mountain. I was perpetually preoccupied about what bike I was going to buy next and I often alienated my rock n’ roll high school buddies by going into ridiculous detail over the next rig I couldn’t afford at the parties we attended on the weekends.
I’ve put a lot of time between my days as a mediocre camp counsellor and where I am today, in the evening of my modest cycling ‘career’. When I look back, the constant thread has been that I’ve always managed full-time jobs between training, racing and taking photos/videos on my bike, and it’s never really been a problem or part of my story. Somewhere along the way, my choice to make the move to the west side of Canada had a massive impact on my potential and subsequent status as a mountain biker, but it also landed me career opportunities I never would have had elsewhere. I’ve always had to pay for riding bikes and living this lifestyle in some way – and it just so happens that this is the case with most people who truly love our sport.
Let’s finally pay homage to the cyclists who wake up on Monday mornings, go to work, manage expectations from employers, family members and society and who continue to put money and time aside to be completely obsessed with riding bikes. While the stories of dedication we hear about athletes who choose to only ride their bikes to be the best in the world are great, there is something truly badass about paying our mortgage and excelling in our daily work while still committing countless hours of devotion to being mountain bikers. Here’s to the 9 to 5ers (or 6ers for some of us), to the working women and men of mountain biking: it doesn’t always have to be about those who are paid enough to survive solely by riding their bikes. We are athletes too!