RIYADH: Two Saudi women are aiming to make history as the first female athletes from the Kingdom to participate in the annual Dakar Rally, as part of a team dubbed the “Sheroes.”
Co-captains Dania Akeel and Mashael Alobaidan hope to become a symbol of the country’s development and inspire women in Saudi Arabia to pursue their passions and follow their dreams, with a six-month project designed to train them up for the race in 2022.
Akeel, who is also one of Sheroes’ project managers, said that she has been passionate about driving for as long as she can remember. She rode her first quad bike aged 8, and her first 150cc dirt bike in the desert at 14.
“I believe it is only natural for me to partake in one of the most challenging desert championships around the world, which also happens to take place in our sandy backyard,” she said.
Akeel was also the recipient of the “Rookie of the Year” award during her first racing season, for the Ducati Cup in the UAE National Sportbike Super series 2019/2020 season.
Alobaidan, the second driver and project manager, said that she had also been involved in sports and outdoor activities from a young age. In addition to her experience with buggies, dirt bikes, and motorcycles, she is also a Professional Association of Diving Instructors certified advanced scuba and freediver.
“I am excited to be part of Dakar and discover the great outdoor treasures that Saudi Arabia embodies,” she said. “Dakar will be a dream come true.”
Alobaidan also holds a US motorcycle driver’s license and received navigation and safety training in California, US.
Iole de Simone, project director and rider, has trained and developed with various sport teams and disciplines across five countries. She has both competed in and organized local, regional, and international events.
De Simone was the first to contact both Akeel and Alobaidan, and is now looking to expand the team with two more members to meet the four-person requirement of the Dakar Rally.
Dakar will be a dream come true.
“We have two potential Saudi ladies who might join us as co-pilots. We’re currently in negotiations with them. I’m also in contact with two Saudi male drivers who participated in last year’s rally,” she told Arab News.
She said that the team was also hoping to get the first female Saudi dirtbiker to join them as well.
“We are planning on launching an Instagram page where we will advertise what we are looking for. Everything was slowed down because of the coronavirus pandemic, but we are still moving forward,” she added.
Behind the team stand two coaches: Poles Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor, who together achieved five CC FIM World Championship titles, and have collectively participated in the Dakar Rally 15 times.
These two legends of the sport will be teaching the team how to transfer their bike skills to the car they intend to drive during the 2022 Dakar Rally.
Find what you’re passionate about, and just go for it.
In addition to the coaches, the team also includes Filip Dabrowski, a professional team manager for the Dakar Rally and Cross Country World Championship events. He has been active in the sport since 2004, and has completed 13 rallies.
The team will begin their training in February 2021 with a Polaris RZR 1000. Following that, they intend to compete in 6 SAMF Cross Country and Baja Championship rounds, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in November, before finally reaching their goal of the 2022 Dakar Rally.
At a launch event celebrating the team held recently in Riyadh, Akeel and Alobaidan offered advice to young Saudi women who want to follow in their footsteps.
“The best advice that I’ve ever gotten was ‘if it’s good for you and it’s good for everyone else, you should follow it.’ For me, racing and competing and driving pushes me towards excellence. This is what I would advise others to do,” Akeel said.
“Find what you’re passionate about, and just go for it. Even if you see obstacles, just bear with them. Try to overcome them and achieve your dreams. It’s all about passion,” she concluded.