The Weekend Warriors Taking Women's Motocross to the Next Level
It used to be women only found Motocross by chance, these women are trying to change that.
Photo by Marque McMasters
The dirt bike scene held its first female-focused motocross race 44 years ago with the Powder Puff Nationals in Valencia, California. Since then, other professional and amateur competitions have been added alongside the male competitions, like at the X Games, the Loretta Lynns, the WMX championship series and the Endurocross series. But there’s a lesser-known quotient of the moto world: the weekend warrior women. Though, to be honest, they're putting in way more hours than just their weekends, and holding down full-time careers as well.
Amanda Marvin, a criminal defense attorney based in northwest Montana, says that it’s the high stakes that draws her to both her career and motocross. “You can’t half-ass being an attorney,” says the 32-year-old who showed up to her first date with her now-husband in a neck brace. “You have to have that passion for it, especially criminal defense. If you don’t do well, your client is directly affected for the rest of their life. I see that in motocross, too. If you stop paying attention or hesitate, you can get hurt [or hurt others] on the track.”
Marvin—along with 14 other women are part of this weekend’s culminating #Makeup2Mud campaign. Put on by Monster Energy Supercross and Toyota, the social media movement aims to spotlight women who are impacting the world of motocross both on and off the bike. The participants include a global mobility consultant (we had to Google it, too), a neonatal ICU nurse, an off-road activist, and pro-rider Kylie Fasnacht, the 20-year-old with three WMX titles under her belt and on her way to compete with the guys.
The male-dominated world of Motocross was part of the reason Marvin wanted to join, in fact. When she was 28, she’d been taken to a track by friends in rural Montana and immediately thought, “I want to do that. I don’t want to just watch. I was used to fighting that perception [of being the only woman in the room] already, so motocross wasn’t intimidating for me.” Marvin saw it as another challenge to take on.
“You do sort of stick out like a sore thumb,” says Chrissy Totilas, a neonatal ICU nurse who lives in Texas, between San Antonio and Austin. Since she began moonlighting in extreme sports about eight years ago, it’s been mostly a positive experience being among the boys. “Overall, everyone's been really supportive and they treat me as one of the group. I even do Fantasy Supercross with them now, too.”
When Totilas was 16, her parents lived near a popular track outside of Houston, which she’d drive by often. One time, she stopped. And when she did, she saw a girl there, blonde ponytail flapping out from underneath her helmet. “Pretty much from that point I decided, ‘well, if she can do it, I would like to try.’”
Marvin happened to be taken to a track and Totilas happened to drive by one. Now, with social media campaigns—with social media in general—the proliferation of women in extreme sports and their visibility is well beyond what it was even a decade ago. But it took the pioneers, as it always does, to step foot in that arena first, get knocked down (a lot) and get back on the bike.
Totilas wasn’t a total stranger to high-risk/high-impact sports. She’d been competitively riding horses for 14 years, and after a couple years off, she’d itched for a new way to fill that adrenaline void. Her family’s proximity to the sport didn’t equal knowledge of it, and they worried about the danger inherent in riding a 250-pound bike at high speeds on a dirt track. “I think I convinced them by getting the proper safety equipment and I talked my dad into getting me some lessons.”
Although there is the risk of a lot of broken bones, dirt bike riding isn’t any more dangerous for serious head injuries than water sports or basketball, and significantly less than football, baseball, and cycling.
“Pretty much from that point I decided, ‘well, if she can do it, I would like to try.’”
“The best thing you can do to reduce that risk is to be knowledgeable about what you're doing and know how to protect yourself in a crash,” says Totilas. “They always say dress for the crash, not for the win.”
In addition to working three 14-hour shifts at the hospital, Totilas is getting a second bachelor’s degree, rides moto, mountain bikes, and goes to the gym on the other four days. An average dirt bike weighs about 250 pounds, and both Marvin and Totilas had to up their weight-lifting regimen in order to lift their own bikes when they started out.
“I’ve never been much of an athlete,” says Marvin, “I didn’t want to try out for the soccer team or swim—any of those typical high school sports just didn’t seem too interesting to me. I had no idea whether I could do [motocross] and that challenge attracted me. It kind of scared me and I wanted to push out of my comfort zone.”
Off-roader Nancy Sabater also tries to push out of her comfort zone, though she readily admits that she’s a timid rider. The 47-year-old learned how to ride when she was 20 and worked alongside her husband—a professional Supercross and Motocross competitor—in the 1990s. In the early aughts, she founded Dirt Bike Girl as an online forum to encourage young girls (and boys) to get involved with dirt biking and to bring the community together on the issues surrounding the sport. It wasn’t until her early 40s that she embraced riding though. And in 2011, the American Motorcyclist Association named Sabater Motorcyclist of the Year, recognizing her activism in the moto world.
Sabater is yet another example of a woman who was indirectly exposed to this world—rather than just happening upon it like Marvin and Totilas, she discovered it through her husband—and with Dirt Bike Girl she’s introducing women to the sport directly. That she’s a self-described “timid rider” is an asset, in a way, showing that even the smallest amount of guts can get you on the track.
These three motocross women—and countless others—represent not the best in women’s racing. That’s not what #Makeup2Mud is for, nor is it what Marvin, Totilas, or Sabater purport to want to be. “This is a way to encourage women to get involved,” says Sabater. “There are tons of women and girls that watch Supercross, but a lot of them don’t realize that they can do this stuff, too.”
We still need to have these types of conversations and campaigns propelling the inclusion of women. Perhaps soon it won't be surprising that women play sports that only men traditionally played. In an ideal world—the world these women riders are trying to will into existence—there wouldn’t be anything surprising about it all. We’re not there yet, but thanks to women like Marvin, Totilas, and Sabater, there is nothing jarring about the sight of a ponytail sticking out of a helmet.