By Andrew Mitchell
At its roots, the sport of trials mountain biking is all about overcoming obstacles, facing your fears, finding your balance, believing in your abilities, falling down and getting up again, dedication, practice, and daring to try new things — in short, not bad skills to have for life.
Following his daily shows at the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, trials rider Ryan Leech embarked on a two-month cross-Canada tour where he will visit over 50 schools from Cranbrook to Halifax. His program, called Trials of Life, will include a demonstration of his considerable skills while telling stories he hopes will inspire kids to follow their hearts.
It’s the kind of program Leech wishes he had when he was in high school.
“I was a pretty shy guy coming up through high school, didn’t have a lot of friends and pretty much kept to myself,” he said. “Now the one thing I do is meet the public, and talk, and perform in front of crowds. That was a big thing to overcome, and it’s something I talk about in my presentation.
“If I was in high school and there was someone I could relate to that shared the same ideas, it would definitely be pretty cool. I would have seen some of the opportunities that are out there, beyond what I heard from counsellors.”
Leech has no trouble keeping an audience enthralled when he’s on his bike, but the inspiration for Trials of Life was a talk Leech gave in a classroom without any stunts.
“The students were really listening to what I had to say, which triggered this whole idea for Trials of Life,” said Leech. “I came up with a presentation that hit all the key points, and mixed it up with my riding.”
Schools with biking and cycling have been the most receptive to the program says Leech, but other schools that were not as familiar with his career or trials mountain biking have been giving Leech a lot of positive feedback.
Although his presentation will no doubt inspire some students to get on their bikes, Leech was careful to make sure the students know that the bike is just a prop to get his message across.
“It would be rad if more people gave trials a try, but more than likely some of the kids will give mountain biking a trial, which is great too, but that’s not the point. Whether it’s mountain biking or soccer or hockey or music or theatre, whatever it is that the kids are into, my presentation might spark a little more interest and a little more motivation and get them to think about things in a different way. I use my riding to connect to the kids, but everyone has their own niche talent, or skill, or interest, and I want to help bring that out in each person.”
The presentation is 50 minutes long, and involves Leech using his bike and stories from his career on the topics of decision, success, obstacles, criticism, and beliefs and potential.
When he was in high school Leech himself had no idea that he would be able to make a career from his trials abilities, or that it was even possible.
“The simplest way to describe the presentation is to listen to your heart, but going into a lot more detail,” he said. “There are so many pressures out there coming from society and everywhere, saying do this, do that, try this, go here, and sometimes it’s difficult to listen to your own heart.
“I was just having fun riding my bike, but one thing led to another, led to another, and now I’m here.”
Leech is one of the top trials riders on the planet, and has been featured in several bike videos and with Cirque de Soleil. He also does shows at public events as a paid performer.
For the Trials of Life program, he is supported by The Co-Operators group of Canada, and his main sponsors at Norco, Shimano, Marzocchi and Ryders Eyewear. He has also joined forces with the David Suzuki Foundation to make it a carbon neutral trip, buying carbon credits for emissions created by his vehicle.
He will wrap up his tour at the end of June in the Maritimes, then head back to Whistler for the Crankworx freeride mountain bike festival, July 21 to 29. For more information visit www.trials oflife.com.