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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

photos by Deni Bechard

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Bikes Races on the Afghan Campaign Trail

5:30am Friday morning in Kabul.  Already a crowd of around 50 boys on bikes has gathered in the street in front of Darul Aman Palace.  Coach, along with a few of the women’s team, Mariam, Sadaf, and Massouma, are blasting the Afghan National Anthem over a loudspeaker on the roof of Coach’s car.  More boys roll up and several older men join the group with their bikes.  Many ancient Phoenix bikes decorated in full Afghan kitsch are ready to race through the now empty streets of Kabul.  Empty because of the early hour and because the route from the palace to Kabul Stadium has been blocked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As often happens in Afghanistan, things get strange really quick.  Presidential candidate, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has made this a campaign stop.  The run-off elections are one week away and the two candidates are in campaign full court press.  So that means security, in the form of heavily bright green armored jeeps full of men with guns, pull to the periphery of the gathering one after another.  Until there are at least 15 jeeps full of men with guns surrounded the event.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A tall Afghan has been handing out white tshirts to all the cyclists, and it turns out that the shirts are emblazoned with the face of Abdullah Abdullah.  Slowly the multicolored sea of nearly hundred boys and men turns white.   Another man is handing out small flags that can attach to the bikes, also with Abdullah Abdullah’s face.  This bike race just turned into a shameless campaign rally.  Now we had a large scale campaign rally for the candidate that the Taliban were vocally against, in a very public and normally busy road, now blocked by highly visible security forces.  The irony?  The candidate and his convoy was no where near here yet.  So now we get to wait.

Continue reading

First Step as Liv/giant Ambassador? Bike Building in Afghanistan

The amazing company behind the delivery of 53 new racing bikes in Afghanistan are part of the Giant and Liv/giant family.  I accepted a role as their newest brand ambassador as I saw their team embrace my work and the Afghan National Women’s Cycling team in a way that spoke loudly of their commitment.  I can’t imagine another bike company involving themselves the way Liv/giant has.  Last spring I delivered 6 Avail composite racing bikes for the newly formed team in Kabul.  They watched my progress with the team development as well as the development of the documentary I am producing with Let Media and filmmaker Sarah Menzies about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, Afghan Cycles, and then they stepped up to the plate in full support of the team and the expansion of women’s cycling in other parts of the country.  To start, they donated 53 more road and mountain bikes, along with clothing, tools, tires, tubes, and helmets for 40 women.

In becoming their brand ambassador, they also set me up with both a road bike and a hard tail mountain bike. As a dedicated single speed rider this is my first foray into geared bikes, and the testing ground for both bikes would be Afghanistan.  A bigger test than riding in a war zone would be building up two new bikes myself, especially two with derailleurs.  Thanks to a whirlwind bike mechanic 101 lesson with my landlord, I arrived in Kabul with two bikes, tools and bike stand from Pedros, and a page full of notes to build up not just my bike, but all 53 bikes in Afghanistan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After a once over and a big sigh, I started the assembly process, knowing that this was one bike of 55 that I would start to assemble over the next week. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Everything was going smoothly until the dreaded derailleur and I couldn’t figure out which way was up. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After some cursing and a few different approaches, I had the bike built up and ready for a quick test ride through the courtyard  Next stop, a much more public training ride with the Afghan National Cycling Team on the open road.  A huge thanks to Liv/giant for their incredible support of my work and their passion for women’s cycling.  #pedalarevolution OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA photos by Deni Bechard – you can follow him on instagram at @denibechard

Bishi Burro

IMG_2880

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.

IMG_2935 IMG_2943 IMG_2942 IMG_2944 IMG_2939 IMG_2941 IMG_2937

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.

IMG_4873 2

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

IMG_4896 2

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