Among the original Title IX athletes in the CIF Southern Section in
1974, Julie Leach has been able to endure like good wine on Thanksgiving.
After 25 years, she's still one of the best kayakers, runners, cyclists,
swimmers, paddlers and field hockey players of all time -- and just about
any other sport you'd like to toss in there.
When kayaking came her way, Leach was good enough to go solo and qualify
for the 1976 Montreal Olympics -- one year out of high school, where some
Corona del Mar classmates would ask, "Why do you want your arms to be so
big? They're going to stay that way and maybe atrophy as you get older."
Leach (nee Jones) had a simple answer for them: "I wanted to go to the
Olympics and (weightlifting) is what I needed to do."
The only girl in the CdM weight room her sophomore year, Leach later ran
a marathon in 3 hours 2 minutes in the late 1970s, the 20th-best mark in
the nation at the time for women; won a world championship in her only
appearance at the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in October 1982; and became an outrigger canoe champion in the mid-80s.
Today, Leach bodyboards near a somewhat secluded reef point in Newport
Beach and jogs about four days a week to keep her 42-year-old frame
But before the gender equality-based ruling in 1974 that is Title IX,
physical discipline among females for athletic prowess was as foreign as
Internet chat rooms in a disco. When Leach entered high school, the
informal Girls Athletic Association had no scorebooks, playoffs or
uniforms. "It wasn't real competitive or anything," she said.
By her senior year, field hockey was a CIF-sanctioned sport and Leach
tried it as a "novelty," but at the time she was training hard in the
kayak for the Montreal Games -- 11 years before Newport Aquatic Center
A pioneer of many sorts, Leach was rowing in single kayaks at a
world-class level when Newport-Mesa District girls first realized
CdM teacher Bill Leach, who coached a kayak club, was her inspiration
into the sport and later became her husband. "I was very determined to
succeed in kayaking," said Leach, who graduated from CdM in 1975, married
Bill four months later and then finished seventh in the K-1 medal race at
the '76 Games, as Mr. and Mrs. Leach performed as a rare husband-and-wife
tandem in the same Olympiad (Bill Leach competed in the men's K-2).
Julie Leach, who grew up sailing, loved the ocean and felt a special
"oneness with the water," and, frankly, didn't care if her shoulders
developed larger muscles than her CdM classmates.
"I understood to (achieve an Olympic level of kayaking), to be good, I
needed to lift weights," she said. "My shoulders had always been big -- I
guess it was a genetic thing -- but I wasn't intimidated (lifting
Leach recorded a 2:05.7 in the K-1 finals at the Montreal Games, a
personal best, and had a chance to earn a medal. "After it was all over,
it was a pretty emotional time," she said. "Even though it was a PR, I
knew in my heart I didn't get a good start and that's what I really
needed to medal."
When the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, Leach was disheartened and
eventually stopped kayaking. "It took me a long time mentally to recover
from that," she said.
About the same time, her husband got involved in triathlons on a
grassroots level and, in 1981, competed in the prestigious Hawaiian
Ironman. The boycott caused Julie to lose interest in kayaking training,
but when she watched Bill in the Ironman, she knew the swim-cycle-run
sport was perfect for her.
A year later, she captured the Ironman world championship, then retired
"I had my best race that day. I couldn't have had a better race," said
Leach, who felt so "fulfilled" after winning that she never returned to
the Hawaiian Ironman.
Leach continued to run long-distance races, but by the mid-80s, outrigger
canoeing took center stage. In 1986, she paddled on the first women's
team from California to win the Molokai Channel Race in Hawaii, competing
for the Offshore Canoe Club in Newport Beach.
That same year, Leach won the Molokai Race in the surfski division (a
combination of kayaking and surfing), then her "priorities shifted" when
she started having children in 1988.
As a coach, Leach started the Corona del Mar girls cross country program
in 1977 with her husband, and, in 1991, guided the inaugural women's
cross country team at Irvine Valley College that won the state
Leach, the latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame,
celebrating the millennium, teaches science at Sierra Vista Middle School
in Irvine. She lives in Turtle Rock with her husband of 24 years and two
boys, Shane, 11, and Hayden, 6.