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The Adventurers: Mountain biker Lisa Leonard

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Leonard prepares for a descent.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

Sure, Las Vegas is home to some of the most stunning interior spaces in the world. But we’re not just a city of indoor folk who commute between desk, couch and casino. We’re also a city of outdoor adventurers. Meet six Southern Nevadans who explore the wild places beyond the edges of suburbia. They climb to mountainous heights, paddle down the Colorado River, overcome their fears and push physical limits. Each confronts the sublime in a unique way—and hopefully compels the rest of us to discover our own adventures.

“Some people are naturally gifted and have no fear. I’m not one of those people,” says newly minted pro mountain biker Lisa Leonard. “I work at different skills, chipping away.”

She’ll spend months on a single trail, practicing until she zips over its obstacles. She went cliff jumping to overcome a fear of “going fast over steep downhill terrain.” She does wheelies and bunny hops on a BMX bike to become more comfortable in the air. “I’m probably the only almost-30-year-old who practices bunny hops up and down the street.”

Leonard has a soft, lilting accent that belies her upbringing in Garioch, Scotland. Back home, she competed in triathlons, swimming in an icy “man-made loch” until her face became rubber. When she moved to Las Vegas in 2012, she felt dissatisfied with the relative ease of warm-weather triathlons in pleasant weather. “Here, you can swim without a wet suit,” she says.

Two years ago, she fell in love with mountain biking. “I’m doing it for fun. It’s always an adventure,” Leonard says. “I’m constantly blown away by the places to ride and see.”

Leonard works two jobs as a physical therapist so she can travel for races. Those medical skills come in handy, too. If she has an ache or pain, she can usually diagnose the problem.

Leonard’s next competition is Breck Epic in Breckenridge, Colorado, on August 13. To prepare for the six-day race, she practices elevation gains on Mount Charleston. (“The good thing about falling uphill is that you topple, brush off your ego and continue.”) She typically rides five to six days a week, for a total of 10-15 hours.

The jump from amateur to pro was a “huge eye-opener” for Leonard. “Where I previously thought I’d been working hard, I now realize I have all these levels above that.

“Even if I’m finishing in the back of pack, I’m racing against the best girls in the world. There’s not many places where your rivals are your idols—Olympians and world champions. I’m definitely more hungry now.”

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