Women Involved Series: Christian Little

What is Christian passionate about when it comes to biking?

-Adventuring on two wheels and sharing the experience with others; encouraging and inspiring growth on and off the bike through Leap2Fly retreats

-Founded Leap2Fly in 2017 to encourage growth on and off the bike. In 2016 she nearly died from falling off a mountain while mountain biking in NZ, suffering a broken back and spinal cord injury.

She realized in the midst of her hardship and recovery, part of her purpose going forward was to encourage, inspire, and empower growth on and off the bike through MTB retreats.

-It was in the midst of her healing that she climbed the European Alps on her mountain bike in honor of her best friend's mom who was overcoming cancer that Leap2Fly was born as she realized how impactful adventuring on two wheels can be while connecting with yourself, friends, and the outdoors. Christian is an adventurous and genuine soul who is passionate about helping others live life to the fullest.

The Story:
Almost a year ago I punctured a lung, busted my ribs and 4 lumbar transverse processes, and grade 3 separation of my shoulder at a bike park in Canada which took time to heal and ease back into jumps and drops. It was a struggle not to spiral into depression and get overly discouraged as I also had broken my back and had a spinal cord injury a year prior. I could have quit riding bikes and let PTSD and fear ruin what had brought me such joy in the past and just give up. Honestly, the hardest part of this journey has been the hardship with my best friend.

Despite all this, I’m still hopeful and trust in God’s unfailing love, faithfulness, plan, and promises. For one, I shouldn’t be alive and it’s a miracle I am. I experienced God saving my life as I was falling to my death and felt God’s power in all things and all around me choose to save me and then laid me down gently on the side of the mountain. I experienced several other miracles over the two years that showed me God’s joy, strength, and love. He gave me hope and faith for His promises ahead.

He healed my broken body, soul, and spirit that had been crushed by and injuries and lastly he has been healing my broken heart in the midst of growing deeper in my relationship with God as His is my home no matter where I am or who is in my life. It’s all for Him and through Him that I’m alive, healed, and taking steps wherever he guides me ahead. I’ve embraced the journey with God 100%
and step by step He has helped me overcome complete brokenness. Absolutely no way I could get through all this without God. Hasn’t been easy with lots of tears, serious injuries along the way, my 14yo pup passed away from terminal cancer, and hardest of all my best friend shattered my heart and ran just when I thought we where going to love and support each other through the toughest of times with God at the center of helping us through.

I hope my story can encourage others and I’m hopeful for restoration with my best friend someday. I simply want to share the love God has shown me and to encourage you to follow the light in the midst of hardship.
Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-?
I am an adventurous soul who loves to explore in the mountains, yet was missing the competition and camaraderie that came with being an athlete in college. After playing soccer in college I was into many adventure-style sports such as snowboarding, surfing, trail running in the mountains, and had been on a mountain bike a few times. I wasn't until my best friend mentioned she thought I would really enjoy mountain bike racing, that I dove right into a race to give it a go before really knowing how to bike haha. Since that first race mountain biking in Colorado a few years back I have not looked back and fully embraced #bikelife as I began racing XC and Xterra Off-Road Triathlon Worlds, Adventure Racing, multi-day Pioneer race, and Enduro races. What a journey it has been for the past few years! I really value living this short life to the fullest and not taking those in your life, the moments, or the experience in your life for granted. I am truly grateful for the friendships and experiences I have been blessed with through mountain biking. Mountain biking has opened a whole new world of adventures on two wheels around the world for me. It has brought me so much joy, stoke, and laughter with my best friend. Also, so grateful for the entire bike community of friends I now have around the world through the various adventures and races I've been a part of. Really such a uniquely awesome community to travel around the world riding bikes or racing and be able to connect with new and old friends wherever you go. Biking has taken me on some of the most meaningful adventures of my life from biking through the European Alps with my best friend to the remote trails of New Zealand. Mountain biking has taught me to truly embrace my childish wonder and love for adventure/exploring. Mountain biking has also helped me learn and grow while truly embracing "leap to fly" in mountain biking and life. Gotta leap2fly in #bikelife!

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
Looking back I really dove into mountain biking 100% from the start haha. I was a collegiate soccer player back in college and loved to adventure in the mountains, yet didn't take mountain biking up seriously until my best friend who also played college soccer was just getting into mountain bike racing mentioned it to me. So I went ahead and entered a mountain bike race after my first few rides on an old heavy bike when I didn't even know how to unclip from my pedals without falling over haha. I remember showing up to the first couple races excited, yet felt nervous for the unknown and was concerned I would come in last or get lost on the race course. My main goal was just to give it a go, give it my all, challenge myself, see how far I may be able to go in the sport and have fun. I ended up loving the exhilaration of going as fast as I could while racing and turning on that competitive edge to give it my all on the course. Felt so good to compete as an athlete again and I loved the challenge of the sport as I had no clue what I was doing. I also remember thinking how awesome the mountain bike community was as it brought together people who love to get after it in the outdoors and I realized this is a community I really want to get immersed in. Basically, I was hooked from the get-go and dove right in. My first year of biking I had so much FUN growing exponentially in riding and racing ability and exploring this whole new world adventuring through the mountains on two wheels. Was such a special thing to share with my best friend who introduced me to biking and to meet so many friends through the sport.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Both. Personally, I use clips for riding and racing, but when practicing skills I use flats. I like to practice in flats as it helps to work on fine tuning my foot weight through pedals and foot positioning with skills. I ride and race in clips because I like to utilize the power on the upstroke of a clip with enduro racing or climbing up a mountain.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I have to laugh looking back at myself. When I was a newbie I would try to stay balanced on the bike by just riding it faster and keeping my momentum and I didn't learn until much later to practice track standing and going up and down features slowly to work on balance on the bike. Better balance on your bike is a skill that through practicing has helped translate into being more dynamic on the bike and has improved my technical riding throughout. May seem simple but has been a most effective foundational skill that translates into every other skill. When I started riding I was so determined and focused to get better early on and I would try following my friends lines who were obviously way better than me racing expert or pro. I didn't learn from going to skills clinics, but rather just pedaled my little heart out to keep up with friends that challenged me quickly to grow exponentially. While this approach is not for everyone I thrived off pushing myself to get up or down a section of trail that was challenging. If I saw a friend of mine ride something that was outside my ability it motivated me to give it a try or if in assessing risk was too high given my ability then would try to identify what I could still work towards for next time I rode the trail to be able to do it. I sure wish I had learned the foundational skills by going to a clinic early on, but I didn't know about them and now there are so many skills clinics out there to help riders grow. I would also encourage you to stick with skills that challenge you as I would session and still do session tricky technical sections to improve skills. Also, as I progressed in mountain biking I started riding more high consequence terrain. While fear or hesitation is something that you want to work through and ride within your ability at the same time pushing yourself to improve. I began asking myself what is the risk versus the reward with this particular feature and if I am not feeling the reward outweigh the risk, then I know it's not for today and something to work towards. One thing I love about mountain biking is that you are always learning and growing in the sport, so wherever you are at in the journey of mountain biking the most important thing is to have fun out there.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Absolutely! Part of the fun with biking is that you are always learning and growing. Just like life. I love learning from others such as shredding with locals when I ride a new trail in a new part of the world who show me how it's done. Also, my perspective has changed over time with biking. I am not so hard on myself to get it right pushing myself 100% each ride and now it's more about enjoying who I'm with and having fun while riding. I still love to progress in my riding, but I don't put pressure on myself for racing and simply enjoy being able to ride a bike and take in the experience of who I am with and where I am riding.

You had an accident that challenged you on multiple levels. When one is going through something so extreme where multiple levels of healing are needed- where did you start?
The way my injury happened actually is part of what kept me going. Towards the end of my mountain bike race season in New Zealand, I was riding the longest bit of single track in NZ which was truly backcountry riding hours from civilization. I was training for an adventure race with a 40lb pack on my back and after climbing the remote mountains for 5 hours my friend and I hit a narrow section of the trail that had a sheer drop off. I hit a rock just right flinging me off the side of the mountain resulting in me tomahawking to what should have been my death crushing my back in several places resulting in a spinal cord injury, but then a miracle happened. As I got a glimpse of what was below mid flip I realized I could not see the bottom of the mountain and it was not level out to slow me down, so at that moment I was at peace knowing I was dying. Then I felt God's power in all things and all around me just stop me and lay me down gently on the side of the mountain. While I sat there in anguish with the pain, I was okay simply because I realized I was saved for a purpose. As it was raining and getting dark my body did not have long before it would shut down, so I looked above realizing I had fallen further than one survives and that I would need to rock climb back up even though my legs were not working very well, yet I knew I was meant to survive at this point and climbed up to wait for my friend. She helped me get my bike the last 30 feet up to the trail and then I used whatever momentum I had left to pedal to the hut 5k away. Then I was heli evacuated out that night and released soon after to hitchhike with our bikes back 8 hours to our van as they missed several fractures and did not provide me with proper pain management and another day before returning back to Wanaka, NZ where I had been living. Once I finally laid down my body shut down and I was in bed most of the time for the next 6 months. I would lay there in tears asking God to help me while working in and through me in this hard time so I could learn and grow from it in the ways he desired for me. I put my trust and hope in him with each step and would wake up choosing to be grateful rather than choosing despair as I knew this miracle of life and the growth through this hardship was not only for my own life but to eventually somehow get to a place where I could encourage others through my story and help others in their journey too.

Did you have a difficult time being patient with yourself during the healing process or did you have a way of kindness towards yourself?
YES, I really struggled with patience with myself, but had to learn a great deal of patience through this and continuing to work on the kindness to self as I am very hard on myself! Every day I was faced with a choice. Would I be grateful for what I was able to do OR would I be frustrated and depressed by what I could not do. I would start every day choosing to be grateful that I could use my legs to walk and that I was still alive for a purpose. When you lay in bed for most of 6 months you have a choice to grow or spiral into the darkness of depression with all the unknowns ahead in such a long period of waiting, pain you are in with a broken back, and emotional hardship with a nervous system that is shut down leaving you without any energy. I was completely broken in every way and even my best friend was not there for me, yet God was there to help me through. I completely surrendered myself to growth with God and whatever he may have ahead in complete faith and trust asked him to help me through.

Some may have an accident and choose to not do that activity again out of fear or worry of the incident happening again. What was your deciding factor to not stop mountain biking?
I have been asked this a lot. For me personally, I found so much joy in mountain biking and was not going to let fear of getting injured again get in the way of experiencing something that brought me such joy. Adventuring is a part of who I am and adventuring on two wheels is my favorite way to explore, so to stop biking would mean I would not be living my life to the fullest and simply quitting when life got tough. It was not easy as those outside my mountain biking community did not support my return to mountain biking, so I had to move forward with what I knew in my heart I was to do and not rely on others opinions. I did end up having to work through PTSD which I did through slowly easing back into riding versus growing frustrated when I couldn't ride something I once was able to ride. I also was in bed for most of the day for almost 6 months as my nervous system shut down from the trauma my body sustained and being faced with death, suffering a broken back and spinal cord injury that left me with balance and strength deficits in my core and legs unable to get out of bed for months without using my arms to pick my legs up and slowly walking as if I were 90 years old for months. It was a really discouraging time and a daily choice to follow the light or the darkness ahead. I truly have tried to approach every day by following the light, yet absolutely you have to be real with yourself in the journey of tough moments to work through them so you don't run from them and rise above them, so you can truly "leap to fly." Doesn't mean it's smooth flying from there. After returning to riding I rode through the European Alps in honor of my best friends mom who was diagnosed with cancer, which was one of the most impactful rides of my life as I was able to ride again so soon after my injury (not on my own strength, but that of God as I was still in bed a few weeks prior) while supporting my friend and her mom as we pioneers our own route through the Alps. It was on top of the Alps that Leap2Fly was born. As the thought of moving forward with my purpose in life began to be revealed as I was to support, encourage, and inspire others in life through mountain biking in breathtaking places such as the Alps. I realized the positive impact the experience had on me and I wanted to share it with others. Soon after I lost my best friend as she ran from the hard times just when I thought she would be by my side through it all to reach the blessings ahead, I lost my 14-year-old pup to terminal cancer and was left alone, I got injured again and was feeling defeated, my savings had dried up from being out of work from my first injury, and I was in a state of physical and emotional trauma from it all. When I thought I had gone through the hardest time in my life it just got harder and I wondered why I survive. I thought I had this purpose ahead, yet I was all of a sudden alone and broken without a home and those closest to me were not there for me through it. I only had God and He is what helped me through the hardest of times including the fear of the unknown ahead for life and biking. I did get back on a bike and have since started Leap2fly to encourage, inspire, and positively impact others lives. It brings me so much joy and I feel I am living out part of my purpose in still being alive when I see participants sharing the stoke and laughing while growing on and off the bike together in epic mountain bike locations just as I had envisioned. I am inspired by the lives that are impacted and the light and joy that radiates from each person over the course of the retreats. You see if I had given up, then I would never: see lives positively impacted and changed for the better at Leap2Fly Retreats, gone back to ride the trail I fell on to experience joy, peace, and gratitude to also share with others to encourage them (see miracles and hardship write with Zeal Optics), spent part of the summer riding with friends in some of the most breathtaking and terrain I have ever ridden in British Columbia. If I give up now, then I will not live life to the fullest to embrace Gods best ahead. Don't give up and please don't lose hope or let fear win. Taking that leap into the unknown and embracing your fears is not easy and doesn't always work out, but the only way you will ever find out is if you truly leap in biking and life. You were meant to fly!

Leap2Fly was created in 2017, tell us more about Leap2Fly and your purpose behind it-
Leap2Fly is a mountain bike retreat business that offers retreats in Colorado, British Columbia, and New Zealand. I started Leap2fly to support, encourage, inspire, and empower growth on and off the bike by providing an opportunity to connect with yourself, others, and the outdoors in some of the most epic mountain bike locations I have ridden in the world. My goal is for every person who comes to adventure with us on a retreat to leave not only stoked at an epic experience with lots of hi-fives and laughs with new friends, but to feel it was a life changing experience for them that they truly embraced "Leaping to fly" on and off the bike.

What do you love most about having your own business? Especially one relating to mountain biking?
The ability to ride with purpose and use my bike as a vehicle to positively impact lives through Leap2Fly.

You are certified as a level 1 IMBA instructor, what do you enjoy most about helping others learn mountain biking skills?
I love to help people overcome an obstacle whether that is an improvement in a skill or overcoming a mental block with fear or even working through something more serious such as PTSD to see them finish the day with a huge grin on their face and completely stoked with biking and what they accomplished. Love being a part of bringing stoke to someone's life, so even better when they let you know later that the skills work significantly helped them with confidence and ability to ride things they never thought they could in their riding and/or racing season. Whether I am mountain bike coaching or guiding I simply love taking in the moment being appreciative to share the experience with others riding such beautiful places.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Adventuring on two wheels is the best way to roll. I love the exhilaration of movement and speed, the stoke shared with friends and the community around biking, the ability to adventure and explore new trails around the world, the challenge of it as I'm always learning and growing, and the ability to ride with purpose and use my bike as a vehicle to impact lives through Leap2fly.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I ride a Yeti SB5 which is the perfect all-round enduro bike for me personally. With the enduro geometry in mind with the SB5 it descends well, yet is still playful and poppy. Ideally, I would have a SB6 as well to send down things fast with more cush, but the SB5 is lighter and climbs well too.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Important for those who have a passion to be involved in the cycling industry to get involved whether they are a man or women. If you have a passion to be in the industry, then go for it! Definitely important for women to be involved in the industry to have a voice in the industry decisions. Expanded on in question on how we could encourage more women to get involved.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Different for every individual, but could be fear of the unknown, lack of confidence in riding mountain bike trails perceived as too challenging, do not have friends to go with, costly sport, or overwhelming as not sure where to start with getting into a new sport.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I believe we will reach a point where this will no longer be a question. More and more women are riding bikes, more women's skills clinics than ever are offering ladies an environment to improve skills, and more women are getting involved with the bike industry that leads to a woman's voice being heard at the industry level to better understand women who ride and how we can get more ladies on bikes and involved. I believe this is multi-factorial. First, those who are new to biking may not know where to start, so offering skills clinics and community riding groups is crucial to introducing ladies to mountain biking and providing a supportive environment to feel welcome and create community. I would love to see ladies take that next step by joining a Leap2Fly MTB Retreat which is about creating opportunities for ladies to continue to grow on and off the bike exploring trails together while creating connection and community. If ladies want to then get into racing or progress in racing Leap2Fly is starting a Retreat for Enduro racing in partnership with Anne Galyean who was the first and only female on Yeti's factory team. With that being said we need to continue seeing growth in support of women on bikes and in racing from bike brands. With more women supported by factory teams as well as more ambassador programs for ladies in general. Mountain biking is not a cheap sport, so the more bike brands who offer ambassador programs to ladies for pro deals on bikes enables more ladies on quality bikes who will continue to progress in the sport and stick with it for a lifetime. Believe bike industry ambassador programs have a real opportunity to progress women in mountain biking by financially supporting key ambassadors who serve at Leap2Fly ladyshred retreats or skills clinics out to progress in mountain biking, which leads to proper support in enabling more ladies to encourage more ladies throughout the world. I would also love to see more ladies in there local communities get in touch with their local shop and organize group rides to offering support, hi-fives, and stoke on rides together.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I really value living this short life to the fullest and encouraging others in their journey in biking and life. Mountain biking has opened up a whole new world to me of adventure, friendships, and travel around the world that I would love to share with others. What truly inspired me to start leap2fly is encouraging others to "leap to fly" in biking and life to live it the fullest. You've got one life. Live it well!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!

I am a mountain girl who loves to surf
Check Out:
-Brand Ambassador for Mons Royale and Zeal Optics
-Sponsors: Mons Royale, Zeal Optics, Crankbrothers, EVOC, IXS, Yeti Cycles
-Colorowdies Ambassador, VIDA MTB Series ambassador and coach, has her IMBA Level 1 MTB Coaching Certificate, Wilderness First Responders, CPR, and surf instructors license

-Doctorate of Physical Therapy, Orthopedic Certified Specialist, and Manual Therapy Fellow, as well as Certified in dry needling.
-Previously a MTB racer also a physical therapy for elite athletes internationally and a professor of physical therapy
-She has competed in Xterra off road triathlon Nationals and Worlds, MTB races throughout Colorado, the Pioneer MTB Stage Race in New Zealand, and Enduros in the USA, Canada, and NZ

Zeal Optics ambassador page: https://www.zealoptics.com/ambassadors

Most recent podcast from Gear Show: From suffering comes growth