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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Kellogg prof balances motherhood, cycling

There is no simple way to explain how to cram being a full time mother, Kellogg professor, author and cyclist into a single day.

However, Professor Leigh Thompson manages to do that everyday, and even if she is waking up at five in the morning, she makes that feat look “as easy as riding a bike.”

Last year, Thompson made headlines by taking the gold at the Union Cycliste Internationale Time Trial Masters World Championship in Austria. This year, she added winning the American Bicycle Rider of the year award, the Time Trial Series Championship and the bronze medal at the National Championship to her list of accomplishments.

“Winning (at World’s) stayed with me,” Thompson said. “It was the best day of my life.”

This is quite a list of awards, especially for a woman who just last year was considering taking a step back from cycling, feeling that she had peaked at the world competition last year. However, she could not stay away from her passion, and she participated in races every weekend of the spring and summer season.

“Cycling is something I know I want to do for the rest of my life,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s success is in large part due to her husband, Bob Weaks, who “created the monster” by introducing her to the sport. He has become her accomplice, using his engineering background to find technical solutions to increase her speed and providing constant support. Robbie Ventura, Thompson’s performance consultant, has also helped Thompson accomplish her dream by monitoring her progress since discovering her talent four years ago. Much of Thompson’s continued success is also credited to her personal coach, John Hughes, who creates her daily training regiment.

“Leigh is a big inspiration for me,” Ventura said. “Like many athletes, she is 110 percent focused. But she has a great family, a wonderful relationship with her husband Bob, and an amazing job at Northwestern in addition to being a world class athlete.”

Just as Thompson inspires the people around her, she has gained inspiration herself from a fellow cyclist, 74-year-old Patricia Beam, who became her adopted “race mom.” After losing her own mother several years ago, Thompson approached Beam at a race and told her that she aspired to be like her when she “grew up.” Beam remains a very active cyclist and races every weekend. This past summer, she took home three silver and a bronze medal at the National Senior Olympics in Texas.

“If I were to race my children or my grandchildren, they couldn’t outdo grandma,” Beam said.

Beam has been a source of motherly support for Thompson, whether she is helping Thompson find her missing sunglasses minutes before a ride or picking up an award for her and dropping it off at her home.

“She’s my adopted daughter, and I know she would do anything for me,” Beam said.

Thompson’s success is not limited to her bicycle. When she’s not wearing a helmet, Thompson applies lessons she learns on the bike to her roles as a mother, teacher and writer. She also tries to leave time for recovery, which can be difficult when she’s balancing so many responsibilities.

“If you’re working all the time, you’re not taking care of yourself,” Thompson said. “Then you can’t grow.”

As a mother, Thompson uses her experiences racing on the bike to relate to her sons, who are involved in rowing.

“It allows us to have a different conversation than just the normal ‘How did you do today?’ It also lets me help them but maybe they’re helping me more.”

In the classroom, Thompson hopes to find a way to apply the passion and intensity she has for the sport to solving academic problems, particularly about leadership.

“People put a lot of energy into their passions, whether it’s cycling or gardening. That energy might have a really positive spillover,” she said.

Thompson’s latest book, which she hopes will go on sale next summer, has also benefited from her cycling success. Her motivation on the bike has inspired much of her research on creativity, the focus of her new book.

“The big take away from the book is that individuals are actually more creative than teams,” she said.

Even with this incredible list of accomplishments, Thompson remains very humble, especially within the Northwestern community, where she feels surrounded by “amazing people doing a lot of amazing things.”

“I’m just one drop in a big bucket,” she said.

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Kellogg prof balances motherhood, cycling