Category Archives: Strength in Numbers

Help Send the Afghan Women to the Asian Games

So its official.  The Afghan National Women’s team will go to the Asian Games in South Korea this September!  This will be the first time that an Afghan woman has competed in cycling in such a world class event.

Backstory: Although the mens and women’s teams were invited to the Games, which only occur every four years, the Afghan Olympic Committee was not going to send any members of the men’s or women’s team to the Games because they felt they wouldn’t be able to compete on the world stage and represent Afghanistan in a positive light.  I met with the President of the Afghan Federation, Fahim Hashimy two weeks ago in Kabul, and discussed the progress of the women’s team and the positive story of women’s rights and sports development that they represent is stronger than their racing ability.  The men’s team is relatively strong for the region and both teams can learn a lot and the opportunity will be integral to their development.

He agreed  enthusiastically that he would support their bid, but that due to lack of funding and the amateur level of the cycling federation, the teams would need to be funded privately and right now Mountain2Mountain is at the sole supporter.  We have submitted the paperwork for passports, visas, and travel arrangements for  4 girls and 2 boys plus Coach Seddiqe.  Now we need to raise the funds to get them there to take part on this opportunity to race on the world stage.

Help us send the women by donating on the Mountain2Mountain website and writing Asian Games in the memo line.  You can share the link and spread the word!  www.mountain2mountain.org/donation

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The Afghan girls who are officially slated to race are Mariam, Sadaf, Massouma, and Zahra.  Training with them over the past couple of weeks, I was proud to see how much they have improved over the past year in strength and endurance.

Need a little inspiration?  Watch the Afghan Cycles trailer where you can see Mariam and Sadaf talk about cycling and what it means to them.

 

photo credit Deni Bechard

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Afghan Team Heads to Asia Cycling Championship

The Afghan Women’s National Team rolled out today in Kabul for their long journey to Astana, Kazakhstan for the Asia Cycling Championship.

Mountain2Mountain secured funding to pay for the visas, passports, travel, lodging, and racing fees for 4 racers, Coach Sediqe, and an assistant.  Thanks in large part to the current President of the Afghan Olympic Committee who we petitioned for support, we were able to financially support their inclusion in this important international competition.

They will be racing on their new Liv/giant composite racing frames, helmets, and jerseys.  We are excited to see the team represent Afghanistan  in this major cycling competition.

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This is the sort of development that Mountain2Mountain is committed to supporting.  We have a 5 year plan to develop the women’s team, normalize bikes, and expand cycling in Afghanistan with the cycling federation, and part of this plan is international racing and development so that Afghan cyclists can meet their regional counterparts, represent Afghanistan on the international racing stage, and develop their fitness and technical skills in racing situations.

Help this team develop, grow, and make their nation proud by supporting their efforts and our efforts with the cycling federation.  You can donate here and ensure that these women can show their strength and their courage on two wheels.  This women are making historic change, they are challenging the taboo that prevents women from riding bikes in Afghanistan.  They challenge deep rooted gender barriers every time they ride, proving their courage with every pedal stroke.  We need to support them and show the world that women can pedal a revolution.

Help support their historic movement and donate today.

 

photo by Deni Bechard you can follow on instagram at @denibechard

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Support Afghan Women’s Cycling with our Afghan Inspired Cycling Kits

Strength in Numbers just got real.

 

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Thanks to the generosity of Primal Wear, and the beautiful bike mandala created by April Lemly, we are excited to share Strength in Number’s newest look with an Afghan inspired twist.  These are the jerseys that the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team will be rockin in their future international races.  We are so proud of these women and hope that the jerseys unite the team and the nation behind the women that are daring to ride – changing the very culture of women and cycling one pedal stroke at a time.

We are excited to announce the creation of the 2014 Strength in Numbers replica cycling kits will help support our continued work with the women’s national team development.

Pre sales of these kits are available as of today and delivery will be early July – in time to rock the kits for the upcoming Global Solidarity Ride on August 30th with the Afghan women and the global cycling community that is inspired by their courage on two wheels.

How to get yours?  You email info@mountain2mountain.org with your order.  We’ll direct you to make the donation and confirm your mailing address.  July 5th we’ll package up the orders and mail out to you.  In exchange we ask that you send us a photo of you rocking the jersey and that you commit to riding your bike, creating a group ride, or joining an existing ride (stay tuned for details) on August 30th to show your commitment to the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team and the spread of the women’s cycling revolution in Afghanistan and beyond.

The only change on the replica kits will be that the Afghanistan on the back of the jerseys and jackets will say ‘Strength in Numbers’ and a few more logos will be added to the back pockets and the purple Liv logo on the shorts will be removed for the replica shorts.  All three pieces are available in all sizes for men and women, but those of you that tried to get sizes last year and we were already sold out, this is your chance with a pre-order to get exactly what you want!  Get yours now and rock it all year in support of the women that dare to ride!

Pricing = $110 for each jacket, $100 for jerseys and $95 for the shorts – this includes all US shipping.  Overseas orders may have extra shipping charges.  Want one?  Email info@mountain2mountain.org to place our order and learn how to donate.

Want more information on the Global Solidarity Ride and our work with the women’s team?  Check out our previous blogs linked to both, and stay tuned for much more information in the month ahead.  #pedalarevolution

 

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Want to help support the team and their development?  You can donate directly at www.mountain2mountain.org/donation

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For the Love of a Bike

Do you remember your first bike?  Odds are, you remember distinctly the color, the shape of the seat, it may have even had a name.  Mine was a  bright blue Schwinn.  It was stolen off my front porch a few months later and I was heartbroken.  My second was pink with a banana seat.  I was careful not to leave it on the front porch and it was my faithful friend until junior high when I got my first steel blue ten speed.  Funny how bikes mark themselves indelibly on your brain?

This week in Afghanistan, I had the pleasure of giving 12 girls in Kabul their first bike.

First up was a visit to bazaar in the old part of Kabul to purchase some bikes that the girls could ride easily and that wouldn’t stand out – more than a girl riding a bike already does in a country that has never allowed females to ride bikes.

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We pick up a fleet of the same bike in different colors.  We had the bike mechanic that worked with us to build up the donated Liv/giant racing bikes check them over and make sure everything was in working order.  Delivered them to Coach’s house and asked the girls to meet up for a team meeting.

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We handed out the bikes to huge smiles and laughter.  The girls have loved riding the new racing bikes and training, but none of them have ever had their own bike.  Each girl has assured us that they have a male family member that have agreed to ride with them as an escort, most cases a brother, but also a father and a step-son.  These girls are among the first Afghan girls to be riding bikes in Kabul socially.  Its the start of a revolution.  Girls on bikes.  Breaking the last big gender taboo.  We couldn’t be prouder.  Ride on ladies.

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Bikes Not Burqas

“It’s time to stop referring to Afghan women as weak, as helpless.  Its time to refer to Afghan women as strong, catalysts for change.  How can we expect Afghan women to fight if we continue to label them as victims?” 

I said these words at my first TEDx talk two years ago – 9 months before I first met the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  I had been working in Afghanistan and was enraged by the way we continue to look at Afghan women, and women like them around the world, as helpless victims that are in need of the West’s support.  These are not victims, although they may be victimized.  These are women of strength and resiliency that need tools, encouragements, and the outlets to use their voice.  2  1/2 years later, the young women I work with in Afghanistan show me every day they are not helpless, they are brave, strong, and fearless.  They simply need tools.  Or in this case, bikes.

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The young women of the Afghan National Cycling Team, and the young women around Afghanistan that are learning to ride bikes for the first time in their country’s history, did not grow up under a burqa.  They matured in the post Taliban decade.  They have taken advantage of opportunities in education, art, sport, and politics.  Many were refugees in Iran and Pakistan and returned here in 2002 and 2003 with their families.  Some stayed here and endured the Taliban’s regime.  Most are in their final years of high school or early years of university, a couple are married.  All are embracing the feeling of freedom that comes on two wheels.

Coming back from Afghanistan yesterday, I was looking back on the past three weeks of training with the team.  Over the past year and half we have been working together, they have matured as cyclists, raced outside of their country, and mentor and recruit new riders nearly every training session. This trip I delivered over 50 racing and mountain bikes from Liv/giant, along with brand new helmets, gear, clothing, along with donated clothing, helmets, and equipment for the men’s team.  We trained in Kabul over several days in various locations, working on fitness and racing tactics ahead of their upcoming invitation to compete at the Asia Cycling Championships in Astana in late May.   I brought the team to the high mountains of Bamiyan for a training weekend on empty, newly paved roads.  I met, and rode with, with the young women that are started to ride bikes themselves to and from the women’s college, thanks to one young woman, Zahra, who learned to ride a bike as a refugee in Iran and is teaching young women to ride as a means of independence.

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These women are the generation of Afghan women that are embracing new experiences, opportunities, without a specific intent of being revolutionary.   They know what they are doing is controversial, but they believe it is their right, that they deserve the same access and opportunities as men, and riding a bike should not be forbidden because of their gender.

I believe sport is a natural gateway to social change.  As these women race and bring national pride to themselves, their families, and to Afghanistan, they are opening the door to allowing girls to ride bikes socially, as transportation.  Increasing access to school or work, protecting their safety, and improving their health.  Creating social justice and gender equality on two wheels.

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This trip I went one step beyond the team’s support.  I spent a morning at the old bazaar to buy bikes for each of the girls to keep at home.  Their first ever bike.  Do you remember your first bike?  The joy and the freedom you felt riding it?  The girls all have a male family member willing to ride with them, but step by step, these women will start to ride their bikes as transportation in Kabul.  The first Afghan women to ever do so.  Crossing the bridge from sport to social independence.

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Every day I worry about these young women.  Not just on the bike, but off.  They are on the front line in a gender and cultural war and yet, if they are willing to ride, to go to school, and to believe in a brighter future, I will do everything I can to support them.  On and off the bike.  Will you?  The support of the team has been minimal and it’s time to step up.  It’s time to support the women that are changing the future of their country one pedal stroke at a time.  We need to get them a minibus and bike rack to safely travel to and from training.  We need to support with stipends the national team so that they don’t have to quit the team to help support their families.  We need to support their racing and travel.  We need to pay for coaching training to build the internal infrastructure for the team to grow and flourish and compete ahead of the 2020 Olympics and future Asia Games.  We also need to continue to support the mens’ team so that they will mentor and support the women’s team and build both teams under the cycling federation as brothers and sisters.

Please help these women pedal a revolution.  Believe that social change can occur one pedal stroke at a time.  Know that these women, and women like them, are the future and their fearlessness needs our support.  Tashakur.

Donate today. www.mountain2mountain.org/donation 

 

photo credits:

Top three – Deni Bechard

Bottom two – Shannon Galpin

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Cycling 101 – Training Day in Kabul

While I spent my first few days back in Afghanistan sorting out the bike delivery logistics from Kabul Airport Custom House, I took a day off to train with some of my favorite ladies, the women of the Afghan National Cycling Team.  Coach showed up with his usual assortment of steel bikes stacked on top of his Land Rover and to my surprise had lovingly packed three of the composite racing bikes I had brought last spring between layers of carpet.  This team needs a minibus something fierce!

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Several new riders showed up including a trio of sisters driven by their brother because Coach’s car was full.  As per usual when I now join, Coach handed off coaching duties to me, which I find comical as I am a mountain biker, not a roadie, nor a racer, but my previous life as a sports trainer and my general knowledge of cycling and coaching, coupled with the base level these girls are riding at, means I seem to have some knowledge to impart.  This ride?  The peloton.  How to ride in a pack and not knock each other over like a row of dominos.  How to ride wheel to wheel without running over the girl in front of you by mistake.

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And after some warm up laps, the girls started to get the hang of it and I learned a few new Dari phrases like;  ‘Nazdeek bosh’ – stay close together. ‘Dar buchoo’ – turn around.  And my favorite, shouted loudly and often, ‘Takar nako’, DON”T CRASH.

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Lesson One = Success.

Lesson Two = ‘How to Corner’ coming up next.

photos by Deni Bechard.  You can follow Deni on instagram at @denibechard

 

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Free the Bikes

In the end, it took a total of 18 hours over 2 days, visiting over 30 offices, gathering signatures, new forms, old forms, stamps, and drinking endless cups of green tea and make idle chitchat to get the myriad of paperwork completed for the Kabul Airport Custom House to release our 53 bikes donated by Liv/giant for the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  #freethebikes became a running gag in my jet lagged state of navigating Afghan bureaucracy.  Seeing the final bike loaded onto the truck alongside Coach Sedique, head of the Afghan Cycling Federation and coach of the women’s team was worth every cup of tea.  Time to ride!

 

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No Bike Left Behind

Today 53 racing and mountain bikes showed up in a semi truck.  Thanks to the ongoing endless winter in the mountains of Colorado that meant the driver wouldn’t come down the hill to  my apartment and hilarious one-woman convoy in my Element ensued – 4 bike boxes at a time into my landlord’s garage.  Its only a temporary holding space, in two days they fly with me to Kabul, Afghanistan.


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Thanks to the incredible generosity of our partner Liv/giant – we have bikes, gear, clothing, tires, and helmets.  Along with an insane amount of donated cycling gear that has been accumulating in my home, this gear drive makes the last one look like a cake walk.  United has confirmed they will allow me show up at the passenger drop off with a 60 plus boxes, but they will not waive the extra baggage fees. We need to crowdsource the funding to get these delivered with us to Afghanistan so we can show the world that progress is still ongoing in Afghanistan, that women are breaking gender barriers amidst the turmoil of the elections, and we can pedal a revolution together!
Several years ago when I first started looking at the controversy of women and girls riding bikes this was the only image you would see of women on bikes.

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I would ride in various areas of the country and ask about the possibility of Afghan women riding.  The answer was always, ‘no’.  Cylcing is just not acceptable for women, and according to Human Rights Watch researcher, Heather Barr, its one step above the morality crimes that women are jailed for.  More women drive than ride bikes in Afghanistan.  Its THAT controversial.

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But these women are THAT brave.  Today, because of Coach Seddiq and a handful of courageous young women, you have women riding as part of the Afghan National Cycling Team, representing their country in races in Pakistan, India, and with your help – in the upcoming Asia Cycling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.

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I go back on Monday to deliver the bikes, gear, clothing with the goal of not just continuing to support the national team, but to start the first ever women’s mountain bike team and make plans for a future women’s bike race with the cycling federation.  This is truly a team effort and we need your help to support the team.  You can donate any amount, big or small to www.mountain2mountain.org/donation and you’ll be part of this two wheeled revolution!

Thank you and please, donate, spread the word, share this blog, and together we can show the world what women are capable of!

Gear Drive for the Cycling Teams of Afghanistan from LET MEDIA on Vimeo.

Racing Bikes, Gear and Asia Games – Strength in Numbers Update

Thanks to the generosity of Liv/giant, we are taking over approximately 50 brand new bikes for the women’s cycling movement in Afghanistan.  Thanks to the support of the Afghan Cycling Federation and the Afghan Olympic Committee, we are starting two new teams, one road and one mountain bike for women outside of Kabul.

We also have boxes of donated clothing and cycling gear to distribute, much like last year’s gear drive we are going to be arriving in Kabul full loaded.  We need YOUR help to get it all there!  You can donate through our website at www.mountain2mountain.org  to help get the two new teams started and help the women of Afghanistan pedal a revolution.

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In addition, the Afghan National Women’s team has been invited to participate in the Asia Cycling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan in late May.  We are committed to supporting the team in international racing opportunities like this so that they have the opportunities to race against their regional counterparts, and represent their country, while building skills and experience to share with the young women just learning to ride!  We need to raise $7,000 to get the team there.   This is where our strength in numbers steps up to the plate to support these revolutionary women breaking barriers and inspiring other women in Afghanistan and beyond!

This is our next step with Strength in Numbers for the Afghan women, and one that we hope you will help support!!

 

Gear Drive for the Cycling Teams of Afghanistan from LET MEDIA on Vimeo.

 

Global Solidarity Ride – Strength in Numbers

On Women’s International Day, we are excited to announce our global ride in support of the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team and the new teams starting across Afghanistan.  In a country where women have not been allowed to ride bikes, the first women to break these barriers are learning to ride, and racing outside of Afghanistan.

This year, men and women around the world will ride in solidarity with these amazing women, to show them that they are not breaking these barriers in a bubble, that the world sees them.  August 30th, we ask communities around the world to get on their bikes and ride.  Our partners, Liv/giant and Osprey Packs will lead the charge with their global network, and we will be setting up a page to collect your photos and your stories of support for the women in Afghanistan.

Mark your calendars now and plan to ride August 30th.  Road, mountain, downhill, or track – if its got two wheels we want you pedaling together in solidarity!   If you are interested in creating a community ride email us at info@mountain2mountain.org  In the meantime, stay tuned for details and rides in your area!  #solidarityride2014

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