The Afghanistan Women’s Cycling Team has been listed by the National Geographic for the Adventurers of the Year 2016 vote contest.
Honored as ‘The Boundary Breakers’, the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team is among the 10 Adventurers contesting in People’s Choice Vote – Adventurers of the Year 2016.
The Afghan team is among the 10 adventurers contesting in Adventurers of the Year 2016 which includes American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, U.S.-Brazil kayaking team of Ben Stookesberry, Chris Korbulic, Benny Marr, and Pedro Oliva, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, one of Nepal’s rising climbing stars.
The Wilderness Protector led by South African biologist Steve Boyes, American ski mountaineers Chris Davenport and Christy and Ted Mahon, the wildlife heros – biologist Arthur Middleton and photographer Joe Riis, German sea kayaker Freya Hoffmeister, trail runner Scott Jurek, and the Swiss Solar Pilots Andrés Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard.
The Afghan Women’s Cycling Team has been honored as Passionate cyclists who become the first Afghan women to compete internationally and spark a cultural shift in the process.
According to the NAT GEO, in February 2013, Marjan “Mariam” Sadequi pedaled her racing bicycle down a rural highway on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. Her teammates on the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team followed behind. Sadequi was a month out from her first international cycling race, the Asian Cycling Championships, held in New Delhi, India. On training rides, motorists often honked to lend support. On this day, the dark realities of being a woman in a nation that has struggled with human rights since the rise and fall of the Taliban were crystallized.
A group of male motorcyclists pulled alongside Sadequi and began to taunt her. The last thing Sadequi remembers was one of the men purposely veering his motorbike into her, knocking her from her bicycle, and sending her flying to the side of the road, where her teammates found her unconscious moments later. Sadequi was rushed to the hospital, but she was able to rejoin the team in time to travel to New Delhi, where she and her teammates became the first Afghan women to race on the international stage.
The Kabul-based Afghan Women’s Cycling Team was originally formed in 1986, but was scuttled by Soviet and then Taliban rule. In 2011, Abdul Sediq, then the coach of the Afghan National Cycling Federation, fielded an interesting question from his teenage daughter. She asked if she could try cycling.
Even after the fall of Taliban rule in 2001, extreme cultural and religious conservatism remains strong outside of urban, intellectually forward clusters. In a country where only a decade ago women were commanded to stay indoors and avoid spending time in public, women simply didn’t ride bikes. Many viewed it as obscene for a woman sit atop a bicycle seat.
Sediq encouraged his daughter to try the sport. He began to build a women’s cycling team that has consisted of ten to as many as 40 women from Kabul. To avoid unwanted attention during training rides, team members forgo the standard cycling kit of tight-fitting spandex and wear pants, loose-fitting shirts, and hijabs beneath their helmets. These days about a dozen women are on the team.
According to former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Shannon Galpin, who has worked extensively in Afghanistan on women’s rights, these women are among the first to ride bikes in Afghanistan.
“This is about inspiring the next generation of girls in Afghanistan to follow their dreams, fight for equality, and gain independent mobility,” says Galpin, who volunteered as a coach back in 2012 and has helped connect the team with American cycling companies willing to donate gear to the team.
The New Delhi race in 2013 could have been discouraging—the team’s contingent simply couldn’t keep up with the other riders who trained full time, and the women failed to complete the course. Instead, the women used it as a launching point to continue racing internationally, first in Pakistan in 2013 and again at the Asian Cycling Championships in Kazakhstan in spring 2014 and South Korea in summer 2014. As a result, women’s cycling has taken root in Afghanistan. There is now another team based out of the city of Bamiyan and an informal group that rides in Kabul.
The team has high hopes for the coming year; the women plan to visit the U.S. to participate in a series of training camps and community events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before heading to Rio De Janeiro to observe the cycling events at the 2016 Summer Olympics. A feature-length documentary, Afghan Cycles, set to be released in 2016, tells the story of the team and its women, providing the capstone of the team’s evolution.