Afghan women cyclists reflect on their journey to Canada

Calgary has been home to Afghan cyclist Mariam Mohammadi and her husband since fleeing the Taliban last April.

They made a perilous journey out of Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021 and banned Afghan women and girls from all sports, including cycling.

“We have come a long and hard road since Kabul collapsed,” Mohammadi told by phone. “First he went to Tajikistan, then took refuge in Abu Dhabi. Finally, in Abu Dhabi he stayed six months before coming to Canada.”

“I never dreamed that the day would come when we would be gone many centuries ago. Unfortunately, it happened and we lost everything we had gained,” Mohammadi added.

Mohammadi, 23, started cycling in 2014, a taboo for women in Afghanistan, especially in the conservative Bamiyan province where she grew up.

“I have fought for my rights and my dreams. Unfortunately, I could not convince my family that girls can be athletes. does not yet know that I ride a bicycle.”

Thousands of kilometers away from his family, Mohammadi prepares to resume his cycling training. Wat Riot Cyclinga nonprofit women’s development cycling team in Calgary.

Mohammadi is not alone. So far, 13 Afghan cyclists have joined his Watt Riot Cycling team for the 2023 season.

Afghan women cyclists from Canada competing in the Afghanistan Women’s Road Championships in Switzerland in October 2022.

Erin Ruttan, founder of Watt Riot Cycling, told in an email. “In the summer of 2022, when Cycling Canada (our national governing body) contacted the Alberta Bicycle Association (ABA, our state governing body) and offered my assistance. has joined the team.In general, riders learn about our team through events, word of mouth, or referrals from coaches.”

“Sponsorship allows us to offer our members significant discounts on equipment. , we can provide helmets, shoes and pedals to members of Afghanistan in need of this equipment,” Rattan explained.

As part of the sponsorship, Ruttan said Afghan cyclists will be registered with the local Wild Rose Women’s Fond in June and will be able to participate in group rides, team training sessions and team events. Watt Riot Cycling also covers the license fee and jersey costs for all new members.

126 or more women from August 2021 Afghan cyclist The family was then evacuated and resettled in seven countries with the help of American human rights activist Shannon Galpin.

Galpin helped an Afghan female cyclist come to Canada. Now she connects them with clubs and athletes on her team so they can resume regular practice.

“There has been a long hiatus in our activities since we moved to Canada. .

Sakizada, who works part-time and attends English classes, is excited to join the Wat Riot Cycling Club, where he can get back to cycling on a bike donated by the sport’s global governing body, the Union of Cyclists International (UCI). increase.

Najila Sakhizada is flying the Afghan flag after competing in the Afghanistan Women’s Road Championships in Switzerland in October 2022.

However, even after arriving in Canada, many of these athletes struggle to resume their beloved sport. After immigrating to Canada, Sakizada says many Afghan female cyclists cannot find time to train and are extremely busy with refugee paperwork and financial survival.

A group of 10 female Afghan cyclists from Canada participated. Women’s Road Championships in Afghanistan Held in Switzerland last October, no athlete won a medal due to lack of practice.

“I was unprepared and didn’t have a bike, but I still participated in the competition. I think we all did very well.” Another Afghan living away from family in Calgary 20-year-old Fereshta Mehraeen, a cyclist from , told in a telephone interview..

Getting used to Calgary’s long, cold winters presents another challenge for these cyclists. But despite all the hurdles she’s faced, the only thing that bothers Sakhizada is the situation of women in her home country of Afghanistan.

The Taliban has not only banned women and girls from playing sports, but also banned women from working in the government or attending schools and universities. According to UNICEF, 3 million girls have been deprived of secondary education since August 2021.

In December, the group ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to suspend the employment of women.

“(The world) should do more with Afghan women. , I intend to do so wherever I go,” Sakizada said.

But after a year’s hiatus from the sport, these cyclists say they are excited about their next adventure and want to inspire other Afghan women to fight for their freedom.

“I am doing my best to fulfill my lifelong dream of being able to compete in the Olympics one day,” added Mehraeen.

Coverage for this article was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta.

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