Chennai’s Alisha Abdullah is the first biker girl from India to be chosen to train with former racer Barry Leong for the FIM Championships in Indonesia, Malaysia and China later this year. For someone in this league, she comes across as too naive to be true. The photo shoot for Mint on a clear sunny morning on Marina Beach takes much longer than required because this 17-year-old can’t take her eyes off some puppies rolling around in the sand nearby.
Spend more time with her, and the picture of a vivacious, bubbly, carefree teenager behind the racing gear is reinforced. The same Alisha, who beat boys in the under-16 age category to win the MRF National Go-karting Championship in Chennai when she was only 12, also gorged on chocolates and ice cream through her early teens. She is now working out three hours a day at the gym to become fit.
But Alisha is no stranger to juggling these two facets of her personality: If she comes across as a regular schoolgirl struggling with academics and peer pressures, she is also an aggressive, tough biker girl, always hungry to breast the chequered flag before the boys.
It all started in 1998, when Alisha, just eight, took part in a go-kart racing competition. She wanted to emulate her father R.A. Abdullah, a seven-time national motorcycle racing champion. “At the time, I was just enjoying myself. But a couple of years later, as I got better, I realized that my timing was as good as the boys’. Soon, I was racing and even finished on the podium a number of times. And then, at 12, I won the MRF National Championship,” she says.
Before she decided to go for Formula car racing, the next logical step, Alisha took to motorcycles at her father’s suggestion. “It is very exciting, doing wheelies and everything,” she says, her eyes lighting up. Along the way, Alisha also recorded a number of podium finishes in the UCAL Rolon Racing Championships in Chennai and Coimbatore.
Not that it has been a smooth ride all along. Her biggest difficulty: boys on the racetrack, and their big egos. “Boys just cannot accept a girl sharing track space with them. They used to push me and, if you are not careful, even a small push could mean a dangerous fall. Initially, I used to come away crying from the races. Then I realized there was no point in telling anyone. So, eventually, I also started pushing them back. Of course, now the boys complain that I am too aggressive, that I am pushing them on the track.”
Her father Abdullah, who is also her trainer and works as a distribution agent for lubricant manufacturers such as Castrol, says: “Alisha has to be tough. It is going to be very difficult for her in a year or so. Once she starts racing at the FIM, for instance, she will be up against hardcore professionals, and it will be difficult even to get into the top 10.”
One of Abdullah’s biggest worries is to find a sponsor to meet his daughter’s travel and equipment expenses, among other things.
“I spend about Rs10 lakh a year on my daughter. But this will go up considerably if we have to enter the FIM championship: a bike itself would cost close to Rs8 lakh. Even if she wins the race, the prize money is just about $1,000 (about Rs40,000). That would only be enough to cover our flight tickets. Fortunately, Alisha is my only daughter. If I had another child, I definitely could not afford all this.”
But both father and daughter are unfazed by the difficulties. Says Alisha: “I want to prove that a girl can do well in a sport dominated by men. It’s not about fame. It is not about money either. It’s just something personal.” Abdullah simply nods in agreement. “Well, she feels she needs to prove something, so why not?” he asks.
Indeed, there are tougher challenges just round the corner for Alisha. In Malaysia, she will have to handle speeds in excess of 200kmph, when she has managed to touch the magical mark just once in Chennai on a Yamaha R1 1000cc. “It will be especially difficult on the corners, because if you don’t maintain that speed, other bikes will crash into you.”
But the young girl is unfazed. “My father is now forcing me to stop working out at the gym. I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” she says.
And if a career in racing doesn’t eventually materialize, Alisha has chalked out her future pretty well. “I will continue to pursue a degree in sociology at MOP Vaishnav College for Women in Chennai, and then probably do my MBA. I really wanted to do automobile engineering, but I couldn’t manage that alongside my racing,” she says.
But, for now, this is life for Alisha, manoeuvring those split seconds on the racetrack, and living every moment on the fast lane.
Along the way, she might just break new ground for others to follow.
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