(Orange, CA)—Forty-two-year-old Santa Ana resident juggles work, family, and college. However, living life at a fast pace is nothing new for Leigh Donovan. At age 11, Donovan began racing BMX bikes. After eight years of BMX racing, Donovan tried out mountain biking and by her second race, she was hooked.
Competing from 1993 to 2001, Donovan became the most decorated U.S. downhill and slalom rider. But becoming a full-time competitor was not an easy choice for her to make. When the opportunity came for her to compete, Donovan was a student at Rancho Santiago College (now Santa Ana College) where she was trying to make her mind up about majoring in automotive technology or psychology. Just about that time, opportunity knocked. She was offered a spot as a full-time mountain bike racer. She could become a professional athlete in a sport she loved.
Donovan clearly remembers the conversation she had with her mother, who had returned to finish college in her 30s. “She told me I could always go back to school and that I had a choice to make,” said Donovan. “I chose to race and that was the right choice for me at that time. I learned so much about myself through the process. Racing changed my life and it changed my family’s life.”
So race she did. In 1995, Donovan won the mountain bike triple crown—the national slalom championship, the national downhill championship, and the world championship—something that nobody else has accomplished to this day. In fact, Donovan is one of only three American female competitors to ever win the UCI Downhill World Championship. Throughout her racing career, she won nine U.S. National championships, the 1995 World Championship, and the 2001 World Cup Dual championship. In 2001, Donovan retired from her professional racing career with the world championships in Vail, Colorado.
After many years of traveling from race to race, she wanted to settle down with her new husband Craig “Stikman” Glaspell, work, and have a family life. For the next 10 years, she focused on Tangerine, her successful designer clothing boutique in Temecula, California. In 2005, her daughter Grace was born. By 2010, her boutique was struggling due to the economy. At 38, Donovan said she suffered her own mid-life crisis and decided to try out for U.S. National downhill team. She competed in a few qualifier events and made the team and was overjoyed to be able to participate in the world championship at her favorite racecourse, Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada. She finished 8th place in the finals and was thrilled that her daughter could celebrate her fifth birthday by carrying the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies.
Now that her racing career is over, Donovan has returned to college at Santiago Canyon College (SCC). Because she is juggling college with motherhood and her new business iChooseBikes, where she focuses on women’s mountain bike events, coaching, clinics, and being an ambassador for women in mountain biking, she is only able to attend college part-time.
“It’s quite humbling being back in college,” she said. “The level of dedication I need to apply to my studies at this point in my life is quite daunting. It is really hard finding the time to study with all my competing responsibilities.”
Since she has been at SCC, she has been grateful for the professors who have really encouraged her. After so many years since she has been in the classroom, Donovan feels that she has to work harder than anyone else. Nevertheless, she has committed herself to the study of business administration. This new major makes sense to her as she wants to understand the mistakes she made with her boutique and do better with her new business.
“Every class I’ve had has impacted my personal life,” Donovan said. “After spending so many years being focused on my body, I’m finally getting to challenge my brain. Being back in school will help give me the growth I have desired for many years.”
SCC’s student support services are making a difference for Donovan. She pointed out how important the Writing Center has been to her, “There is always a professor there to help guide me.” The Math Center has also helped her find her way through math classes that can be very intimidating after being out of school for so long.
On September 10, she’ll take a break from her studies to go to Las Vegas where she’ll be one of four inductees in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum was founded in 1988 in Crested Butte, Colorado. It honors those who have made significant contributions to the sport through racing, advocacy, journalism, and more. In 2013, Donovan was also honored with a spot in the BMX Hall of Fame.
About mountain biking she said, “It has totally changed my life. Things that seemed like roadblocks to me aren’t. Obstacles have gone away; I now approach life looking at the bright side.”
About Santiago Canyon College
Santiago Canyon College (SCC) serves about 14,000 students each semester. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions and careers, and provides courses for personal and professional development, as well as customized training for business and industry. The college is recognized for its adult education program which keeps the working adult—and senior—in mind by offering flexible schedules, and community locations. Serving the residents of Anaheim Hills, Orange, Tustin, and Villa Park, SCC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District. Visit http://www.sccollege.edu to learn more.
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