Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei’s passion for hurdling over dirt hills has led her to leap cultural and legal barriers in Iran, where women are banned from riding motorcycles in public.
“When two days pass and I do not ride my motorcycle, I get really ill. Even the thought of not having a motorcycle someday gives me an awful feeling,” Shafiei said on the outskirts of Iran’s capital, Tehran. “Sometimes, I think to myself, ‘How did people in the past live without a motorbike?’ Is life without a motorcycle possible?”
It almost became a reality for 26-year-old. In Iran it remains illegal for women to ride motorcycles in public. Conservative clerics also denounce the idea of women attending men’s sporting events.
But Shafiei and five other women worked hard to get official identifications from Iran’s Motorcycle and Automobile Federation to allow them to race on amateur tracks. They still don’t have access to Iran’s only standard motocross track at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran, so they often race on the capital’s outskirts.
On a recent weekend, Shafiei drew a crowd when she took off her helmet, part of gear received from international sponsors. Women crowded around to take snapshots with her.
“I did not know that it was a woman riding until I noticed her hair,” housewife Mahnaz Rahimi said. “It took me by surprise that a woman can be so courageous. I don’t have the guts to do such a thing.”
Shafiei fell in love with motorcycles 11 years ago when she saw a woman in the country running errands on a small bike.
“My goal is to be a pioneer to inspire other women,” she said. “Together, we can convince authorities to recognize women’s motorcycle racing.”
Here are a series of images by Associated Press photographer Vahid Salemi of female Iranian motocross racer Behnaz Shafiei. – Associated Press reporting