Author: Alexa Bonsey
Editor: Danielle Schoen
For Leigh Coates, yogi and pilot, home lies in two very different parts of the world.
During the winter, you’ll find her playing in the azure waters, soft sands, and verdant rainforests of the Big Island in Hawaii. She spends these winter months practicing yoga on her own and with master yoga instructors, as well as hiking and exploring the ocean by snorkeling and free diving off the island’s volcanic cliffs.
In the summer, look up into the Alaskan sky and you might see her helicopter rising over ragged glaciers and snow-laden mountains.
Leigh owns her own piloting business, VS Helicopters, where she leads helitours for tourists, carries workers into the Alaskan wilderness and mines, and teaches young students how to become helicopter pilots in their own right.
She shares her experiences in these brilliant landscapes through her Instagram, where followers can revel in her adventures.
Leigh’s account offers a vivid lens into her blissful world — but what her pictures don’t immediately express is the journey she took in order to reach this place of success and joy. Here at Blue Ridge Nation, we are honored to share her story.
A Dream Career Cut Short
Leigh’s attraction to snowy terrain began during her youth, when she spent her time snowboarding professionally.
In 1998 she was ranked as the fifth best snowboarder in the world.
She competed in the X Games, specializing primarily in boardercross. Leigh was also preparing to compete in the Olympics once snowboarding was considered an official olympic sport.
But at 26 years old while thriving in these pursuits, a freak accident ended her career as a professional snowboarder.
A moving car pinned her leg to another vehicle in a parking lot and caused tremendous damage.
Leigh went through ACL surgery and extensive physical therapy, working tirelessly to return to the sport she so loved — but a second surgery revealed an overgrowth of muscle tissue that permanently thwarted her ability to fulfill her snowboarding dreams.
Her injury and surgeries also caused lifelong leg pain, which is part of the reason she now turns to Blue Ridge Hemp products for relief.
Finding Passion in New Places
As she describes this experience twenty years later, the distant loss still echoes in her voice: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”
Yet instead of allowing this tragic change to consume her life and identity, Leigh held tightly to her resilience and positivity.
She opened her heart to new possibilities despite her raw wounds.
During her healing process, Leigh met a woman who showed her a yogic sun salutation and gave her the book Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar to read. Leigh began practicing on her own and found that yoga awakened a part of herself she had long forgotten. Her mother later told her that they had done yoga together when Leigh was very young.
Although Leigh doesn’t recall these experiences, the memory of those movements was embedded in her muscles and bones: “I felt like I had been doing it all my life.”
Around this same time, Leigh moved to Hawaii to continue her journey of healing and learned about a local helicopter piloting school. She had personally funded and earned her private airplane certificate (ASEL) when she was 18, so the helicopter school was a perfect opportunity to continue cultivating her passion for flying.
At 31, she graduated and became a helicopter pilot.
“People ask me if helicopter school was hard, and it’s such a weird question to me because it wasn’t hard — I was so passionate about it! It probably looked hard on paper, but it wasn’t because I wanted to do it every single day.”
After earning her degree and certification, Leigh began working in Alaska and evolved through a variety of utility piloting jobs. The demanding schedule of 14-hour days initially compromised her yoga practice, but she soon learned to take advantage of landing periods in between flights to flow in beautiful, remote vistas.
“That’s my best practice ever, when I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I’m just free to flow and move and feel. Being that close with the earth is where I find my God.”
Now she splits her time between running her business in Alaska during the summer and spending her winters in Hawaii. Her pilot work is incredibly meaningful to her because it is a celebration of community and the earth.
“I love to be able to share my Alaska with people.”
Pain, Stress, and the Empowerment of Relief
Leigh’s active lifestyle has always enriched her life, but it has also taken a permanent toll on her body. “I do yoga and get into poses that people just can’t believe because I’ve had so many injuries — I have scoliosis, fractured two vertebrates in my back, undergone two knee surgeries, undergone one shoulder surgery, and broken both ankles.”
With these injuries comes a lot of pain, so Leigh was thrilled when she first learned about Blue Ridge Hemp Co.
She was immediately moved by Will’s mission, since they are both “passionate about sharing things that help people. I felt like it could be the perfect product for me to use and represent because it’s everything I’m all about.”
Leigh has found tremendous solace in the Blue Ridge Hemp products. She tried the CBD Infused Gel first, and still uses it frequently. It makes her back feel good and relaxed, and relieves many of her other aches and pains. She often uses it before heading to a yoga class, and enjoys how her back heats up as she practices.
“The muscle gel is probably my favorite — but I go back and forth on what’s my favorite. They’re all my favorites!”
Wearing a helmet while piloting all day often triggers headaches, so she also enjoys the CBD Infused Headache and Stress Roll-On for pain relief. Recently, her business partner was very ill with bad headaches, and she offered him one of the Headache and Stress Roll-On products to try.
His illness turned out to be malaria, and he was very appreciative of Leigh’s generosity because “that roll on was the only thing that would take [his headaches] away,” even while he was hospitalized.
This is certainly not the first time that Leigh has shared the products with others for their own comfort. Like so many aspects of her life, Leigh sharesthe products to continue her mission of empowering others:
“I carry two or three products in my purse all the time, and then I share them with people.”
She is grateful for the comfort these products have brought into her life as a whole.
“If I can get out of bed in the morning and feel great, it’s absolutely empowering.”
Incorporating Self-Care Every Day
Leigh’s journey of physical and emotional healing combined with high-stress work have inspired her to prioritize self-care. The Blue Ridge Hemp Co. products are an integral part of Leigh’s personal self-care routine; she carries some in her purse at all times and uses them in the morning, throughout the day, and before yoga.
In addition to using these products, Leigh has some other ways she incorporates self-careon a daily basis.
One of these methods is “The Daily Hug.”
Each morning in the shower, Leigh wraps her arms around herself, letting the water run over her body to cleanse her of any stressors or fears.
“I tell myself I can do anything, and it’s all going to be okay.”
Because she takes a shower almost every day, she is always sure to start her day with this expression of self love.
Leigh also emphasizes the value of daily meditation. She commits to meditating for five minutes every single day in the morning.
“If I set those small goals for myself, I’ll do them. If I say to meditate for 30 minutes every day, that’s a big goal, I’m not going to do it! But five minutes, I do it.”
In both small and large ways, Leigh sets meaningful goals for herself and creates a lifestyle that allows her to meet those pursuits. The same resilience, drive, and rapture that once propelled her career as a snowboarder now allow Leigh to live a new dream: fluctuating between her office in the Alaskan sky and her spiritual playground in Hawaii.
She embodies the same passion for hard work, self care, and wellness that characterizes the Blue Ridge Nation.
“I think a lot of people look at my life and think, ‘oh my gosh, dream life, I can’t believe you do all that stuff!’ But I worked so hard; it took so much blood, sweat, and tears to get to certain things.”
Leigh hopes that her journey will show others that, with enough effort, we can all bring our dreams to fruition.