Monday, January 12, 2009

Leah McCollough, Amazing Woman

Anyone visiting this site right now probably already knows that Leah McCollough is an amazing woman, and that we have recently lost her presence in this world.  On short notice, we have created this blog so that important things about her life and legacy can be published for all to see.  I will post information about her upcoming funeral, as well as how friends and family can contribute to and watch her legacy.  

Friends, the time will come when this blog will go away, and a more sophisticated expression of her new life, as a creator of history not yet recorded, will take its place.  But we do what we can as quickly as we can.  I encourage you to post comments, thoughts, pictures, rememberances, or anything that will encourage us all in our time of loss.  I am hopeful that this time of pain is one day seen as a time of birth for a new thing on the Earth.  My next post will be the details of the upcoming homegoing services.

If any of you are more experienced with "Blogger" and would like to suggest things I can change to improve this blog, please feel free.  I will not be offended.


  1. "It makes me really treasure Thanksgiving" Caden Lorenzini (age 8) thinking about the last time she saw Leah.

  2. "I want you to know how much I treasure knowing Leah. I thank you for that wonderful gift! She was a wise and loving friend, a great bridge-builder, an optimist and an example for others in so many aspects of her life. Losing her can only be termed "tragic," for we desperately need the Leahs of the world!...I know I that I am a better person for knowing her and having the privilege and blessing of counting her as a friend." A letter from Lee Neff, Leah's Extended Family Aunt in Seattle

  3. The entire Seattle Girls' School community mourns the loss of Leah's lively presence. She first walked in our doors as an experienced consultant and wise adviser, and left that same day a new-found friend...soon cherished by each and every person who had the privilege to work with her. We could always count on Leah's perspicacious wisdom, unique insight and finely honed emotional intelligence to guide us to and through! Her passing begs the question: "Whatever will we do without her?" She graced us for far too short a time...yet she leaves an indelible mark on our school's culture. Our task will be to ask ourselves and each other, "What would Leah do?"...and then do it! We are grateful for the time she spent with us, the thoughts she shared with us, the dreams she spawned in us, and the heights she encouraged us to envision. As poetess Eva Rose York so aptly put it: "Would she could pass this way again."

    Sally McLaughlin
    8th grade team
    Seattle Girls' School

  4. Leah was my career consultant and became my friend. We did 2 Danskin Triathlons together, and she inspired and delighted all of us on our training team. After the race, like many of us she wrote about her experience. Here is what she wrote in 2008:

    Hello everyone,
    Congratulations on your fantastic races! I was in the "Superstar" wave, and
    I felt like one. It's a little long, but below, I've included my race
    report (and last year's) below. I'd love to hear how your race went.
    Thanks, Leah.

    Train. Complete Triathlon. Repeat. The Second Year.
    Last year I completed my first triathlon, and I wrote about the experience.
    I wanted to share how transformative it had been, and frankly, I was trying
    to be efficient by emailing the same report to everyone I needed to thank at
    the same time. As a tri newbie, I didn't know this was something people
    typically did after their races-write a race report. After sharing it, many
    people shared back with me how touching, inspirational or memorable the race
    report was for them (last year's report is included below). That was
    surprising but very nice. I was pretty focused on the impact the experience
    had on me--it didn't occur to me it would affect others. Some have asked,
    "what are you going to write this year?" At first I felt pressure to write
    something just as compelling, and then I realized I can only share the
    feelings and impressions of my (second) triathlon journey as I experienced
    them. Again, I have many people to thank for that journey, so here goes.
    You can only have one "first" triathlon, and last year mine was amazing.
    But you can have many other firsts in the form of new challenges, new
    discoveries, and new victories. My biggest victory in year two was that by
    challenging myself to go farther, I discovered a new Leah. I didn't know I
    was lost, but I found myself this year.
    At the start of triathlon training this year, I had completed one triathlon
    and a 26-mile 2-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. So I knew I could do the
    second one. But some things were different. I was training a completely
    different body. My increased physical activity resulted in the loss of 70
    pounds since the beginning of training in 2007. The old physical
    limitations I had become so comfortable with, and that defined my life, no
    longer seemed to fit. I had to let those limitations go, and learn about my
    new possibilities by pushing myself just a little farther. That was hard to
    do. And I had to start thinking about myself differently. I couldn't have
    done that if it hadn't been for the family, friends, coaches, teammates, and
    strangers who helped me see a new Leah reflected in their eyes. I had
    coaches who kept encouraging me by pointing out how much stronger I was this
    year ("I guess I can do that more easily"). First timers in this year's
    training team would ask me questions about the race ("wow, they think I know
    something"). The volunteer at the Expo where I picked up my athlete
    materials who looked at me and handed me a size medium shirt ("is she
    talking to me? I guess I don't need a XXXL shirt anymore"). And everyone
    who introduced me to someone by saying "this is Leah, she does triathlons."
    (holy cow, that's what people think? I just did the one. Oh, well yeah I
    guess I'm gonna do another so that counts as two. Hey I guess I do 'do
    To help me know for sure that I'd found new Leah, I got a chance to meet old
    Leah-or rather someone who reminded me of me last year. I don't know her
    name, but I saw her at the pre-race Expo. She was a young, African American
    woman who was solidly built. She was walking around looking at the booths
    with fear, doubt, and a thousand questions written all over her face. I
    walked up to her and said "you can do it." I could practically hear the
    doubt and negative self talk going on in her head. "Are you sure? People
    keep telling me I can do it but I don't believe them. I want to believe
    them, but they're not really talking about me. It's the fitter, thinner,
    more confident people who can do it-not me." So I said it to her out loud.
    "You don't believe me do you?" No, she nodded her head. "You think I'm
    talking about someone else, don't you." She nodded again, this time in the
    affirmative, and seemed about to cry. I grabbed her hand and squeezed and
    said "I thought the same thing last year. While I wanted to feel confidence
    beforehand, I really didn't believe I could do it until I did it. I promise
    you, you can do it, and you can even enjoy it." I talked to her a bit
    longer and she seemed relieved, became calmer, and seemed willing to think
    "maybe I can." It had mattered that someone who looked like her and felt
    like her gave her encouragement. I was grateful for the opportunity to pay
    back some of which had been given to me last year. By 'paying it forward' I
    had truly acknowledged my own transformation.
    New Leah much preferred the weather for this year's triathlon. There was a
    little bit of thunder and lightning early the morning before, but no rain
    and no extreme cold or heat. Good weather, good training, great coaching
    and great support resulted in a successful and fun second triathlon
    experience. I felt more comfortable during the swim despite the multiple
    collisions with other swimmers. I met my goal of doing the freestyle the
    whole way (I thought of Michael Phelps and Dara Torres and that spurred me
    on). The swim was 200 meters longer this year but I completed the whole
    3-sport event 37 minutes faster. A teammate reported to me afterwards that
    I 'whizzed by' her on my bike ("again, I'm thinking who me? Whizzing by? Is
    she sure it was me?"). And while I am a confirmed walker, I actually ran
    the last 4 blocks toward the finish line. Last year after crossing the
    finish line, I was happy but physically spent. This year, I was relaxed and
    had enough energy to hang around and see other teammates cross the finish
    line (boy is that ever fun!) I even found myself thinking about what I
    could do to improve my skill, technique and speed next year.
    So I guess it wasn't a fluke last year. I guess I really am a triathlete.
    I guess I belong to this group of amazing, powerful, inspirational women who
    choose to grab life and live it to the fullest, and I'm very proud to be a
    member. To all the women (and men) who cared for me, encouraged me,
    supported me, and held up that mirror showing me-forcing me to see--what I
    was capable of, thank you very much. I couldn't have continued the journey I
    started last year without you. If you're reading this second tri
    experience, and still wishing you could have a similar transformational
    experience, then the time has come for you to find yourself. Set that goal.
    Prepare for it and achieve it. Choose living. Choose you. As others have
    done for me, I will be there for you. I will support you. I will encourage
    you. I will hold up that mirror. And I will be proud of you.
    I wish you all the best in your efforts, and I look forward to hearing about
    your firsts, your journeys, and your discoveries.

    Danskin 2007: I am a Triathlete
    I promised to let several of you know how my triathlon went on Sunday and I
    just wanted you to know that I FINISHED IT! My goal was to finish it no
    matter how long it took (I was emotionally prepared to be the last person
    across the finish line as long as I crossed it but that didn't happen), and
    I finished.
    I am very thankful for the interest and support of many family, friends,
    associates, and even strangers. I started telling people early in the year
    that I was planning on participating in the Danskin 2007 event. I was
    trying to give myself encouragement and to make sure that I went through
    with it. It worked, but every time I would tell someone, they would say
    "Wow, that's great. I could never do that but I wish you the best of luck."
    Every time someone would wish me well, I would feel re-inspired to work
    toward my goal. But I also noticed just how many people believe they
    couldn't do such a thing. I knew that I was really no different from them.
    In fact, I challenged myself to participate in the triathlon because I heard
    myself saying in my head "I could never do that." Well that just wasn't
    okay. I had to change my own mind about what I could accomplish, so I
    committed to training for and participating in the Danskin event. I made a
    determination to do it. I chanted about it. And I took every bit of
    encouragement that was shared with me and channeled it into action to pursue
    my goal. Creating an intention or determination is the first step to
    achieving a goal that at first seems impossible. The journey to make the
    impossible possible starts with the first step.
    To aid my effort, I joined a training team. The Team Danskin Training team
    met twice a week for 10 weeks. In addition to performing one or two of the
    sports, at each training session we got guidance and information about sport
    skills, nutrition, health, triathlon tips and techniques, and a ton of
    encouragement and moral support. Our skills, endurance, and confidence
    increased with each session as we rode further, swam farther, and ran
    faster. But more importantly, the 60 women of level I and level II athletes
    became a true support system for one another, providing support,
    encouragement, and congratulations whenever a minor goal was achieved. I
    was doubtful that 10 weeks would be enough to prepare a complete novice for
    something as significant as a triathlon. But the coaches and workout leaders
    really knew what they were doing. To my surprise, I actually felt prepared
    when the Danskin weekend approached. Every week was a great experience, and
    I'm already missing our sessions as I always looked forward to them.
    One the important things I learned during the training and the event itself
    is that the hardest work, the muscle you have to train the most is your
    brain. When you think you can't do something, often times you can't or at
    least won't try. A great coach pushes you to do it anyway. And then you
    discover you can do it. Of course this thought is typically quickly
    replaced by the next thought, "yeah, but I can't do that." Well, training
    your mind to keep trying even when you are not sure turns out to be a lot of
    work, but it really pays off. Before you know it, there are things you know
    you can do, and you're trying new things with a new attitude. You think
    "maybe I can do it, I will at least try." This turns out to be all you
    really need. The body is an amazing thing, and can often do things we never
    thought possible. And, once you are willing to try, you'll notice all the
    people around you who will teach you how to do it better, support your
    efforts, and congratulate you when you make it. Your mind is usually the
    biggest barrier to any goal you are trying to achieve-triathlons are no
    We checked in, picked up our bib numbers, and attended an expo with
    motivational speakers and vendors on Saturday the day before. That is when
    the full effect of 5,000 people preparing to do the event really hit me.
    All these women, many breast cancer survivors, some competing in the name of
    survivors, others competing in the name of important women who lost their
    battle, all of them working on their own individual goals. There were
    thousands of first-timers like me, and others who were working to improve
    their personal times. By the end of the day on Saturday, there were 5,125
    bikes "racked" on metal saw horses out in the middle of the "transition
    area" waiting for the athletes.
    I woke a few times the night before, but did generally get some sleep. I
    had to leave my house by 4:45am in order to eventually get to the event area
    and the place where I racked my bike with a hour and half to prepare before
    I started. We were organized into 'waves' or groups of about 100 women.
    The groups started the Tri by plunging into Lake Washington to begin the
    swim course every 4 minutes. My wave, filled with other women in my age
    group 40-44, started at 7:16 am. But the first group, the Survivors,
    inspired us all. Every participant gathered down by the lake to cheer them
    on as we officially opened Danskin 2007.
    It was raining pretty heavily during the event this year. It has been
    nearly 10 years since it rained for the August event. But we got over that
    as we prepared to start our event. As more and more waves were going into
    the Lake, I waited my turn, prepared myself, visualized successfully
    completing the swim course. Finally the time came to get into the water. I
    started to smile because I couldn't believe it was finally here. As nervous
    as you think you'll be, you're also pretty excited. And it hits you that
    this is fun part. I finished the swim course, and when I was walking out of
    the water, I thought "great job Leah, the hardest part is over. The bike
    and walk should be a 'cinch." I recommend never thinking that any part of a
    triathlon will be a 'cinch.' Being drenched in lake water was quickly
    replaced by being drenched in rain water. It never stopped raining and
    sometimes it was a downpour. We were advised to be especially careful on
    slick roads during the bike ride and that was good advice. It was my first
    time on the bike route, so I confess I was pretty busy thinking, "Oh, my
    god, is this ever going to end," and "where the heck (okay I'm being nice)
    is the turnaround." But I eventually got to the turnaround and started to
    smile again (through the rain) knowing I was half-way there and remembering
    that this was fun. I returned to the transition area, re-racked my bike,
    and prepared to do the 5K walk. At this time, I kept thinking "I'm almost
    done. I can't believe it, I'm almost done. All I have to do is just keep
    walking until I get to the finish line, and then I will have done it." This
    is when the first tears started. They came and went quickly and were easily
    camouflaged by the rain water streaming from every part of my body. I got
    busy on my walk. The walk is a fairly 'chatty' part of the event. There
    are a lot of women within your proximity (or passing you as the case may be)
    and they shout a lot of encouragement like they know you and have been with
    you every step of the way. You practically can't stop smiling and waving
    because as soon as you do, another person is "high-fiving" you and telling
    you that you are almost there. I'm amazed at the number of people who come
    out to stand along the way and shout encouragement to the athletes (yeah,
    that would be me). We really never get anywhere in life alone do we. We
    even owe our successes to the perfect strangers who encouraged us ("way to
    go 1734, keep it up"), handed us water and snacks, and shouted instructions
    to us when our brains weren't quite fully working.
    Anyway, when I was really "almost there" I started crying for real. Again,
    you couldn't really tell unless you were very close to me. But I started
    thinking about the fact that I would finish, how great it already felt, and
    that soon I'd feel even better. Finally there it was. The finish line. I
    was seriously boo-hooing at this point, but of course I didn't care. I
    crossed the line, raised my arms in triumph, and then they gave me a medal
    (how cool is that). My friend Robin who was there shouted my name (and I
    cried some more) and I went over to where she was to give and get a great
    big hug. I felt incredible and a little bit at odds. I found several
    training mates, and we cried and celebrated, and took pictures together.
    Next, I had to gather my soaked belongings and get my bike home. I'd been
    out in the hard rain for 7 straight hours, and frankly top of mind was
    getting home and taking a hot shower. I got home, sent a couple of text
    messages, peeled second-skin wet clothes off of me and took a very long
    shower. You won't be shocked to learn that right after I ate something and
    snuggled down on the sofa that I promptly fell asleep.
    I have been heartened by the number of people who have offered their
    congratulations to me and told me they are proud of me each day since
    Sunday. I am truly appreciative. Though I am slightly embarrassed by it, I
    am proud of myself as well. I have been sharing with people that I
    participated in the Triathlon-not to brag--but because I really want people
    to know that they can do whatever they set their mind to. IF I CAN DO IT,
    YOU CAN DO IT. I'm still on a bit of a high from the event (the muscle
    soreness has worn off) and definitely feel like I want to do this again. In
    fact, I hope I can find other fun, healthy activities to participate in year
    round before next year's event.
    The preceding description was designed give people a sense of my experience
    if they are interested. But I also wrote it so that everyone could know
    important your support has been to me, whether you know you've offered it or
    not. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for everything.
    Best of luck to you for any goals you are currently working on achieving. I
    know you'll be able to do because you can do whatever you set your mind to.
    Regards, Leah.

  5. The first time I met Leah was about 10 years ago through Robin and Court Lorenzini. I knew then that Leah would be a force in the nonprofit arena just because she said so. And of course she was.

    Leah will be missed, but the people who had a chance to be in her presence and benefit from her work will be forever blessed.

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  7. Leah inspired many people in two summers of triathlon training. She will be missed but remembered often. When times get tough, I will see her challenging herself to swim, bike, run, and become a triathlete (twice!) and know that life can be taken unexpectedly and that I should not put off doing something even if it is challenging and scary. I have set a photo of Leah and myself as my desktop background and everytime I log on, I can hear her say, "You go Girl!" - I have added the photo in my blogspot profile - check it out at the top of the page