Way To Go, Girl!: Pioneers and Leaders

Recognizing women riders in the US and Canada

We’ve already declared this the Year of the Woman Rider, so its only fitting that women motorcyclists have been making headlines left and right, winning awards and taking crucial positions of leadership. Learn more about some of the pioneers and leaders who are making big strides to expand the role of women in the world of motorcycling.

Motorcyclist of the Year
Three big cheers to Nancy Sabater, who was named Motorcyclist of the Year 2011 by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) for her work in helping bring attention to a law that would have essentially prevented children from riding dirt bikes. Presented annually, the AMA Motorcyclist of the Year award recognizes a person or persons who had a profound impact on the world of motorcycling in the previous 12 months.

Nancy Sabater, the AMA’s 2011 Motorcyclist of the Year, describes herself as “just a rider” who enjoys trail rides on her dual-sport bike. Nancy doesn’t have children, but she was outraged at a law attempting to ban them from riding dirt bikes and ATVs.

Nancy, a motorcyclist from Charlotte Hall, Md., was recognized for her grassroots advocacy to save youth motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) from a misguided federal law, known as the “lead law,” that would have banned their sale beginning on Jan. 1, 2012. Nancy’s victory was sealed when President Obama signed legislation on Aug. 12, 2011, overturning the ban, ending a three-year battle to save youth riding for future generations. Defeating the law hinged on the support of thousands of individual motorcyclists like Nancy, who was involved in numerous efforts to generate support to repeal the law. A full interview with Nancy can be found in the January 2012 issue of American Motorcyclist, the AMA’s member magazine. Way to go, Nancy!

Position of Influence in the US
Speaking of the AMA, WRN congratulates AMA board member Maggie McNally for her recent election to vice chair of the AMA Board of Directors. She is the first woman to hold the post.

Maggie McNally, the Northeast region member representative for the AMA Board of the Directors, has been on the board since 2009.

Maggie resides in Albany, N.Y, and is the third woman elected to the AMA Board of Directors. She follows AMA Hall of Famer Hazel Kolb, elected in 1978, and Patty Mills, who served in 1990.

Maggie, a longtime motorcyclist and Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach, says one of her major initiatives this year will be promoting the 2012 AMA International Women amp; Motorcycling Conference, which takes place July 26-29 in Carson City, Nev. “Women are among the most passionate and dedicated motorcyclists and members of the AMA,” Maggie said. “For the 2012 AMA International Women amp; Motorcycling Conference, well be working with some very enthusiastic individuals—those whose clubs and organizations will partner with the AMA as we work hard to make this the best womens motorcycling conference ever.”

Maggie was elected vice chairwoman to serve the remainder of former Director Jim Williamss term, which runs through February 2012. At that time, Maggie will need to run again to retain the post. Congrats and good luck, Maggie!

Pioneers in Road Racing
Way to go to Kathleen Coburn and Toni Sharpless, two road racers who recently got inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Toni and Kathleen are two of the first women to race professionally on the road-racing circuit, competing in the late 1980s, and are therefore consider pioneers for women in the sport.

The Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame class of 2011, inducted in November 2011, includes Toni Sharpless (front row, center) and Kathleen Coburn (front row, second from right).

In 1987, while representing Yamaha, Toni qualified for the front row of the second grid for a race in Daytona, becoming the first woman to make it to an actual race at the event. She and Kathleen, who was racing for Suzuki at the time, were subsequently asked to race in the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race in Japan—quite a feat for women in those days. As Toni says in the book “Women Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment,” in which she’s profiled, “We got off the plane, and all these cameras were clicking and aiming toward us. We were looking over our shoulders, figuring Brooke Shields was on the plane, so all the shots they have is us looking over our shoulders.”

A Yamaha team flyer promoting its two female racers, Toni and Kathleen, who raced in the 1987 Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race.
Toni on the racing circuit.

Toni credits the fortitude she learned from motorcycle racing for helping her defeat cancer in 1991. Congratulations, Toni and Kathleen!

Position of Influence in Canada
Speaking of Canadian motorcycle riders, Kellee Irwin was recently elected as chairperson for the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada for 2011-2012, replacing Liz Jansen, who completed her two-year term but will remain on the board as past chair.

Kellee, who hails from British Columbia, is a longtime on- and off-road rider and enduro competitor who has worked in a family motorcycle retail business. She’s been involved with riders’ rights in Canada for many years.

“I am honored to be joining a volunteer board of directors, having the depth and breadth of riding experience, strategic thinking and leadership qualities that are needed to represent the interests of Canadian motorcyclists from coast-to-coast,” said Kellee. “Taking on this role at a time when the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada is determined to weigh in on public policy and rider and traffic safety issues that impact the Canadian on- and off-road motorcycling community is challenging and exciting.” Way to go, Kellee!

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