Leah Thorvilson, director of development and external relations for the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, earned a professional cycling contract after taking part in a talent search for female cyclists.
Eleven months ago, Canyon-SRAM teamed up with Zwift, an online social cycling community, to holdZwift Academy, a competition that offered a chance to earn a professional cycling contract with Canyon-SRAM women’s racing team for the 2017 season.
More than 1,200 women from around the world participated in the competition, which culminated with three finalists— Thorvilson, Jessie Donavan, and Yvonne van Hattum — competing in a one-week training academy in Mallorca, Spain. Thorvilson was announced the winner on Dec. 19.
Thorvilson took up cycling after experiencing a series of injuries that impacted her competitive distance running career. She competed at UALR and after her graduation, eventually making it to the trials for the Olympics marathon competition in 2012.
After the Olympic trials, Thorvilson ran eight marathons and completed a 50-mile run in six months, which led to four surgeries over three years.
“I figured out about a quarter of my life over the past four years has been spent on crutches,” Thorvilson said in aninterview with Zwift Academy. “I was told earlier that year I might not ever be able to run again, so for sanity’s sake, I begrudgingly bought a bike.”
Originally, Thorvilson was “terrified” of cycling when she began riding in July 2015. Now, she has ridden nearly 12,000 miles and is well on her way to an anticipated spring debut as a professional cyclist.