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Women’s (Bike) History: Shannon Galpin & the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team

To achieve her dream of waving the Afghan flag at the Olympics, 16-year-old Salma Kakar rises before dawn, to train under the cover of darkness. For the new Afghan Women’s Cycling Team, participating in the sport is a direct — and perilous — challenge to the prohibition against women cycling.

“These women are literally risking their lives to ride bikes,” says Shannon Galpin. Over the past five years, Galpin has dedicated herself to improving the lives of girls like Kakar through her organization Mountain2Mountain. In 2006, the Colorado trainer and avid mountain biker established her nonprofit to empower women and girls in conflict zones — through cycling.

According to National Geographic, which honored Galpin as a 2013 Adventurer of the Year: “The 38-year-old has braved some of the most violent periods in Afghanistan—a country considered by many humanitarian agencies to be the worst place in the world to be a woman—to work on women’s education and health. She fostered midwife training to combat infant and maternal mortality in the Panjshir Province. In Kabul and Kandahar, she helped develop reading programs for the daughters of women in prisons, some of whom were jailed for adultery after they were raped or for escaping arranged marriages.” In 2010, she became the first person to ride across Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley and has been a key supporter of the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team.

“I started challenging that barrier [against women riding bikes] myself by being a foreign woman and looking for other women riding bikes,” she told NBC Nightly News. “Finding out that a small group of women were riding in Kabul as part of a cycling team it was a really natural segway to work I was doing in Afghanistan to support this burgeoning group of women pushing the boundaries on bicycles… It brings bikes into a whole new realm that could galvanize women’s rights in Afghanistan.”

And, if women like Kakar are willing to take the risk, Galpin says, the least we can do is support them. The first step: gear. The Mountain2Mountain founder has garnered hundreds of pounds of donations from bike shops, industry and individuals in a matters of months. And with her new Combat Apathy campaign she’s encouraging all of us to step up, building a “battalion of passionate mothers, daughters, and sisters, that are willing to sacrifice time, money, and energy to be crusaders of gender equity and human rights.”

Cllick here to learn more and support the effort.  

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