In the 1970s I thought that I was defying what it meant to be female by racing motocross and riding trials. Working-out on a bike in the heat and dust does not bode well for a good hair day. Television, the movies and advertising all encourage women and girls to take care of their looks.
While I was growing up Charlie’s Angels was a popular American crime drama television series about three women who work for a private investigation agency, one of the first shows to showcase women in roles traditionally reserved for men. Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith of Charlie’s Angels look gorgeous as they chase and capture the bad guys. They did it all with beautiful hair and immaculate good looks.
I grew up riding horseback, skiing, sailing, bicycling and backpacking but I never looked attractive and sexy. Grownups asked me when I was going to put my hair up in curlers and use makeup.
When I took up off road motorcycle riding things did not improve. Tangled and windblown became sweat encrusted and dirty. I was never one to pay attention to my looks and my boyfriend (now my husband) did not mind and appreciated the fact that we could have fun together and ride motorcycles.
When I started racing there was no “powder puff” class. I raced in the novice class with everybody else and nobody knew that I was a girl beneath my helmet and leathers (in those days a lot of the guys had long hair). It was bar to bar aggressive racing just like today.
When I was younger I grew up playing sand-lot baseball, football and hockey. Once I was old enough for organized sports, I was not allowed to play and there were no sports for girls outside of gym class. The grownups did not think girls belonged on the field.
When I started riding trials there was a lady’s class with B sections. I was stubborn and rode the regular A sections and nobody complained. There was a time when one of the organizers expressed concern because I could have been riding the lady’s class and getting trophies. He wanted to know why I was riding the much harder Novice A class. When my husband told him that I rode the A sections because I liked the challenge he was relieved (besides I was no lady).
There was a Women’s MX National Championship race at Carlsbad, California. It was a one race series and my husband and I drove down south for the event every year. I loved racing and the feeling of battling other athletes on a light, powerful machine; roosting through berms and flying off jumps. The uphill whoops were legendary at that track. Good times…
Today things have changed. You see lots of women and girls riding off-road motorcycles at Carnegie. Somehow they still look attractive even though they are wearing full face helmets and MX boots. There is a Women’s Professional MX series and sponsored women racers. Maybe that is the reason women and girls are inspired to ride these days.
A year or so ago Ashley Foilek starred in a commercial for Honda. She was racing her Honda on an MX track and getting good air on prime time television. Things have changed in this part of the world, but what about in other countries where women are still treated differently because of their sex?
In some countries women are not allowed to go out of the house unaccompanied by male relatives. Even then they are covered from head to toe obscuring everything except their face and hands.
However, there is an Iranian woman who defies tradition and became her county’s woman’s motocross champion in 2009. Although Noora Naraghi – Moghaddas is barred by her gender from taking a motorcycle out on Iran’s public roads (women aren’t allowed to get a license to ride a bike), she has follows her passion and rides a motocross bike in the hills.
“I feel no pressure in following the passion of my parents. My father was once Iran’s motocross champion, my mum rides, I ride, my younger brother rides and of course my husband rides motocross bikes too,” she said.
Noora says the track at Azadi stadium, Tehran’s main sports complex, is off limits for women, and that this lack of available tracks is the main hurdle for women getting ahead in motocross.
“I was born and grew up in motocross family,” she says. “My father took me to a park in front of his motocross shop. He started a 50cc Montesa for me, put me on the bike, pushed me and said ‘Go!’ I didn’t know how to use the clutch or brakes so I just rode around. When I got tired he stopped me and helped me come down off the bike.” She rode her first motorcycle when she was four years old and is still riding although now on a full sized bike.
“We do not have a place to train like a permanent track, so we go to the hills in north-western Tehran, which my father has set up with basic technical requirements,” she added. Noora says her ambition extends beyond Iran’s borders. She wants to compete against US women in motocross.
“I would really like to race outside Iran, and the Americans are the best in this sport.”
She says that her role model is Ashley Foilek, (the 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 US women’s motocross champion who is completely deaf and communicates using sign language). She likes her style and the fact that she is young. Nora herself is only about twenty-three years old.
Noora was crowned Iran’s Woman’s Motocross champion when she lined up with eight other women including her mother in an event sponsored by a local motorcycle club that her family helped organize. She got the checkered flag.
As per Iranian law, the females were covered from head to toe. But Noora took it all in stride: “We have to wear our “hejab” everyday, so it was no different than any other day for us. It did not discourage us in any way to do our best”.
She went online to learn more about Ashley Fiolek. “I thought maybe someday I go to America and see her and cheer for her,” Noora said. In 2010 she was interviewed after winning a race in Iran. She sent a copy of the article to Ashley’s manager and he wrote back inviting her to come to America to visit as a guest of Ashley’s sponsors.
“It’s just like a dream,” Noora said. “It was shocking. At first I thought maybe it’s a joke.”
It was no joke and Noora spent time visiting Ashley’s home in Florida and traveling to a track in Massachusetts for a day of racing in the Women’s National Motocross series. She crashed in practice, badly bruising shoulders and getting a black eye. It was particularly embarrassing to crash in front of her new friend. Despite the injury, though, she used the bike and gear supplied by Ashley’s sponsors and rode in one of two races.
She was not among the contenders in the front of the pack, but did not come in last as she competed on an unfamiliar track among more experienced women. She said that she was able to learn from studying Ashley and other top American riders up close.
“I didn’t even realize that there were girl racers over there in Iran”, Ashley said. “I just think it’s awesome. It’s a big thing for me, too: I make a new friend from Iran, and it’s really cool, and I’m really glad that she’s here. … It’s nice to have somebody new to ride with. She has a really good style.”
Noora said women’s motocross in Iran is just starting to develop, and they have no professional racers. She trains some other women and girls. If the sport grows in Iran, she said, maybe Ashley can visit and help train the riders. See: http://smostofi.com/iranian-motocross-racer-visits-her-american-friend/
A few years ago Noora flew back to the USA to learn how to ride and race motocross in a two-day motocross school for women in Oak Hill, Texas where she was instructed by Stefy Bau, former 2 time Women’s World Motocross Champion and owner/instructor of 211 MX school. The school is an elite world-wide motocross academy in Florida, designed especially for women riders and racers.
Stefy says: “I’m very happy to be able to train riders from all over the world. I am especially happy to be able to work with Noora and share my knowledge with her. She is a determined person and wants to make changes in the world. She reminds me of myself when I was younger. I feel lucky to have met her.” See: http://supercross.com/noora-naraghi-from-iran-chasing-her-motocross-racing-dream/
Riding and racing motocross is still considered a “man’s sport” in a lot of places. It builds physical (and mental) strength, endurance and balance; while having fun outdoors with friends and family. It should be encouraged no matter who you are or where you come from. My hat is off to Noora, Ashley and Stefy as racers and as role models. I especially want to commend them for helping others fulfill their dreams.
Also we can’t forget Noora’s family who encouraged her and passed on the joy of racing. They are an inspiration, especially for those of us who forget what it is like to defy convention and who take our freedoms for granted.