After completing the gear delivery, meeting the team, and filming with Afghan Cycles for the past week, my heart is overflowing with the excitement, joy, and pride. The young women that make up the Afghan National Cycling Team, along with their families and of course, Coach Sediq, have been incredibly gracious in allowing us into their homes, onto their training rides, and into their lives. It is not without a great deal of trust that they have opened up to us, even dancing to the latest Bollywood songs on a roadtrip for a training ride; headscarves down, hips gyrating to the latest grooves, smiles wide and laughter easy. It is not something I, nor the entire crew I’m here with, take for granted.
Road trip with the team, wearing new jerseys and helmets from the gear drive.
Women riding bikes is still considered taboo in Afghanistan, most of the women that ride on the team have only been riding bikes for a year or two. While these women are riding their bikes in public, it is not without risk. The girls face enormous challenges to ride a bike, illustrated best by the fact that they can’t ride their bikes alone, or with their teammates. The only way to ride safely is with a male family member or their coach. Whether they realize it or not, these women are challenging gender barriers very publicly and setting an example to other young women everywhere.
But they don’t focus on that, so neither will we. Let’s focus instead on their new found love of cycling, which for many on the team is simply a hobby. They are simply enjoying a new hobby, a new sport that makes them healthier, happier, and has developed new friendships. It has also allowed many of them the opportunity to travel outside of Afghanistan to competitions in India and Pakistan.
Most inspiring, especially given their newness to the sport, is their desire to compete, and in some cases, their desire to raise the Afghan flag in international competitions to show the world “Afghanistan is more than just a drug country, and to show the world as an Afghan woman, and as a female cyclist, I am proud.”
Sadaf, rides one of the few actual road bikes on the team, a heavy beast with flat pedals.
photo credits: Claudia Lopez