Raised in a small town in Vermont, Lea Davison spent her childhood exploring the woods, fields and waters with her sister – then went on to become the top female mountain-bike racer in the country. We sat down with Lea and talked with her about her career, her mentoring organization Little Bellas, and her love of being outside.

L.L.Bean: When you were growing up in Vermont, you were a competitive skier and runner. How did you get into competitive cycling?

Lea: A friend in high school suggested that I stop running in circles on the track and try mountain biking. I was hooked from day one. It combined the fitness from running and riding a bike felt similar to downhill skiing. As soon as I found out there was such a thing as a professional mountain biker and that it was an Olympic sport, I was laser focused on becoming a pro.

L.L.Bean: What would you say are your greatest career accomplishments?

Lea: In 2014, I had my second hip surgery on a torn labrum. I had surgery in February, and I returned to racing that same season. I was in my basement gym swinging my leg around working on range of motion while my competitors were spending five hours on the bike. Everyone else started racing in March and I started racing in late June that season. I came back from that major surgery to step on my first World Championship podium with a bronze medal in September. I'm really proud of this. I'm also really proud of making two Olympic teams and winning a silver World Championships medal in 2016.

L.L.Bean: Is it tough to balance competitive cycling with recreational cycling? How do you keep from getting burned out?

Lea: I love riding my bike whether it's training, racing, or fun off season rides. I think that love has kept me and my career going for almost twenty years. I also live in Vermont and have an off season in the fall and winter. At this time, I mix it up. I like to go hiking, paddle boarding, back country skiing, nordic skiing, and about any other activity outside. I need this variety in activity. It keeps me fresh.

L.L.Bean: You’ve traveled the world to compete, and been to a lot of amazing places – what are your favorite cycling destinations, and why?

Lea: I absolutely love Lenzerheide, Switzerland and Livigo, Italy because they are smack dab in the middle of the alps. There is incredible road riding and mountain biking and all of it is in these amazing mountains. It's breathtaking. I live for mountains.

L.L.Bean: What are your favorite things to do outside with your friends and family?

Lea: Obviously, I love to ride bikes with my family and friends. But I also love to hike, ski, paddle board, and just about everything in between. Any day spent outside with friends and family is a great day.

L.L.Bean: You and your sister Sabra created Little Bellas to help young women realize their potential through cycling. Tell us a little more about the story behind Little Bellas and what the organization does.

Lea: While we progressed through the cycling world as teenagers, my sister and I realized that there was an inequality of men and women on the start line. We wanted to give women the same opportunities and more as the men had. We aimed to get more women riding and racing bikes so we started the Little Bellas in 2007. It's an all girls, mentoring on mountain bikes program with chapters and programming across the United States. This year alone, we will get over 1200 girls on bikes, and we are thrilled about this! We use mountain biking as a vehicle to empower girls and create a community of women. I truly feel like this is my mission, to use my platform as a professional athlete to empower women. Luckily, we have created something where I can do this.

L.L.Bean: You studied Environmental Studies at Middlebury, and the outdoors is obviously a big part of both your professional and personal life. What do you think people gain from spending time together outdoors?

Lea: Connection with the outdoors and to a place is the foundation of all environmental advocacy. You are not motivated to save a place if you are not connected to it. This is why it's crucial for as many people as possible to spend time outdoors. Having outside adventure together with people only deepens that connection, and is the best way to experience the outdoors.

L.L.Bean: What are you looking forward to about your partnership with us?

Lea: L.L.Bean has everything I need to get outside in any way I want to. From hiking in the pouring rain and staying dry to paddleboarding on the perfect summer day. I look forward to spreading that message and some inspiration to get outside! It doesn't matter the weather, just get out there! It's always a good time when you are outside.