Full Circle to Pedal a Revolution

I spent over a decade as a sports trainer.

When I turned 32 I left that career behind me to start a non profit that fought for the rights of women in conflict zones, and started my work in Afghanistan.

I never thought my career in sports and conditioning would play a role in my current work as an activist and humanitarian.  Yet, yesterday, after a long meeting with the Coach of the Afghan Men’s and Women’s National Cycling Team, my old profession became my new job description: Coach of Afghan Cycling Teams at the upcoming Asia Games this September in South Korea.

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The last two months I have been working with the Afghan National Women’s Team to develop some basic development and training.  I join them on training rides and work on small steps to add into their training, sometimes as simply as a lesson in shifting.  In April I brought the team to the mountains of central Afghanistan in Bamiyan province for a long training ride, and scouted as a potential location for a future women’s race.  I delivered brand new racing bikes, clothing, tools, and helmets for the national team thanks to our partnership with sponsor Liv/giant.

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The men’s national team is much more developed than the women’s, in large part because boys grow up here riding bikes while girls are forbidden to ride.  They are stronger, have better handling skills, and look like cyclists in their lycra and their clip less pedals.  But, cycling as as sport is new in Afghanistan and over the last two visits I have brought used road bikes, new mountain bikes, gear, and clothing to support their development and the development of cycling into other provinces.  Beyond equipment, both the teams need training and coaching development.  Right now, both teams need the basics: Nutrition, hydration, training plans are needed before we even really discuss racing techniques.

Ironically that’s my background.  I am a mountain biker, not a road cyclist. I do not know how to corner downhill on a road bike at speed, or how to draft, or slingshot a sprinter through the finish line ala Mark Cavendish, but I know how to build a foundation of conditioning, how to develop strength and speed, and how to teach a cyclist nutrition and hydration principles.

And I have a few aces in my pocket with my Board of Directors and Advisory Council of Mountain2Mountain.

Dr. Allen Lim, founder of Skratch Labs.  He’s worked at the Tour de France level with pro cyclists, he worked with Taylor Phinney through the London Olympics, and created a revolution in how athletes fuel and hydrate.

Chrissie Wellington, 4 x World Ironman Champion and major voice in women’s sports.

Dotsie Bausch, Olympic medalist and founder and coach of Empower Coaching Systems.

We can pull in the big guns to start building a foundation of incredible coaching development and training for both the Afghan National Teams while at the same time I work to normalize bikes for girls and create a social revolution on bikes that will allow bikes to be ridden without dishonor or controversy throughout areas of Afghanistan, creating a revolution on two wheels.

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photos by Deni Bechard

 

 

 

 

Bishi Burro

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It took a monumental effort just to get 63 boxes of bikes, tools, clothing, and equipment to Denver Airport to fly with me to Kabul. It took an even bigger one to get them released from Kabul Airport customs house.  Apparently rules have changed since my previous arrivals with Liv/giant bikes and donated cycling equipment last spring. Instead of accepting my letter, they looked at me, one lone woman with 63 bike boxes and bags loaded onto 11 trolleys creating a Everest like line of porters, and gave me the dreaded yellow paper.  The yellow paper meant they would take the bikes into the customs house and that I would have to get a letter from the Ministry of Finance to release the bikes, ideally duty free as these were a donation and not for sale.

Najibullah was waiting outside the airport with a truck bound for central Afghanistan that I had requested.  I explained the situation and he called Coach Sedique, the head of the Cycling Federation and the coach for the women’s and men’s cycling teams and together we tromped through the halls of the Olympic Stadium offices, the Ministry of Finance, and the Kabul Airport custom house  for a total of 18 hours over two long days.  Back and forth we went from office to office, searching for signatures, given new forms to fill out, told to stamp this form here or there, endless waiting and cups of tea, and a receptive mantra of “Bishi. Burro.” Sit. Let’s Go.

My view of these two determined men became a repetition on a theme, and inconspicuous went right out the window as the tall blond foreigner dutifully followed.

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One Woman’s Progress in the Cycling Movement of Afghanistan

April 2013 – Mountain2Mountain set up a mini bike school with a few members of the Afghan National Women’s Team as part of the outdoor entertainment on the women’s day at the Sound Central Music Festival.

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One of the young girls that rode around the courtyard was this young woman below.

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Fast forward to October, 2012.  I meet the coach and the girls for a training ride on the outskirts of Kabul to meet some of the new girls learning to ride bikes.  Guess who’s there in a pale pink helmet!

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (24)

She is attending the Goethe Institute and while we couldn’t communicate much in English or Dari – we found our common language in basic German.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (29)

It was a fabulous day of riding with Coach and several of the national team like Mariam, Nazifa, Massouma, and Sadaf, along with six new riders from American University, Kabul University, and the Goethe Institute!  #pedalarevolution