A Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Finding Amy
Was I forgetting something? I scampered across the pits at Mosport, the arms of my leathers bashed against my knees as I juggled the rest of my gear from one hand to another. The ominous green Kawasaki tent loomed in the distance and I could see the army of lime-green machines dutifully displayed underneath. A cold sweat erupted across my forehead. I scanned them quickly hoping to see the one ready for me.
You see, I’d been invited to the inaugural 300 Kawasaki series invitational. It’s a really big deal, because to be invited to one of these things you have to be pretty special. Ex-champions, fast-as-hell racers, and all the folks that the fans talk about were there. The media were present too – people were watching this.
And then there was… well… me: the girl with the pink and blond hair.
I was nervous as hell. The last time I swung my leg off a race bike was at this EXACT location 5 really long years ago in the Winner’s Circle. Life got in the way of my racing career. I became a mom (which kicks ass, if you’ve never tried it I suggest you do) and a wife, and my life became something else.
Relatable? Yeah… to everyone reading this. I see you nodding your head in agreement. Tuition, mortgage, that new job, family, we’ve all been there.
As I approached the tent I spotted her. MY bike. I could tell she was mine because the personnel that carefully prepared her for race had put a few personal touches on her. They christened her with my old numbers and graced her with my signature pink.
I felt the tears well in my eyes.
Motorcycling wasn’t just a hobby for me, this was something I had dedicated my life too. I had forgotten about it for a while, and in turn forgot about a piece of myself. That badass-take-no-prisoners kind of self. She is who I am, in there somewhere.
Riding crotch rockets was my dad’s poison and in turn I drank it too. Before I could ride alone, I clutched my dad tightly as he leaned into the speed corners as his borrowed XL Shoei persistently begged to be flung off my head. Heinz always told me to squeeze if I was scared and I never dared.
I started riding motorcycles at the age of 6. My dad had purchased a YSR50 to play around with and promptly told me, “If you can start it, kid, you can ride it.” Seemed fair enough. The unfair advantage dear old dad had omitted was that he removed the kick-start. And we lived in Saskatchewan. (It’s flat there if you’ve never been.) Still, I was determined.
Dutifully, I stepped down on the shifter, pulled in the clutch and ran as fast beside her as a small child could until I popped the clutch and hopped on the seat. Nine times out of 10 I wasn’t fast enough and would land flat on my face in the attempt. But a crash wasn’t going to stop me. I quickly learned that the coulee west of the house lessened the physical input. With some help from gravity, my passion was born.
Speed was now my drug and my dad and I had something in common. We travelled together to our very first closed circuit when I was 15. It didn’t take too long for me to pass the old man; he hung up his leathers to help me with my tire bills.
Taking up a full program later in my 20’s, I had the honour of racing some of the most challenging tracks in the Western US. I luckily landed a gig with Yamaha, as one of their riders in the 2008 model launch. As a result, I was one of the first people on the planet to ride that new cross plane crankshaft Yamaha R1… with Colin Edwards! Yeah, Now THAT’s cool.
Racing brought my husband and I together; he is a National Champion many times over and in many disciplines. He introduced me to another world of off-road riding. Up until I met him, this idiot road-racer had never been in the dirt (on purpose anyhow) and it showed in my results. Fast was I, but I buried it in the gravel traps. LOTS. I was a crasher.
I traded my leathers in for some buckle boots and learned how to ride enduro, ice, and trials all in the same season. Being married to my talented husband (Jordan Szoke) also meant we ran among the crème de la crème of two-wheeled riders. I had learn how to ride all over again, in front of these people. It felt like I was learning how to walk.
Talk about a confidence crusher, these are the best riders in the country and they are all watching me. I swallowed my ego (with a side of ketchup please;) and picked myself out of the dirt again (and again… and again) and kept coming back for more.
The off-road riding and coaching from my husband quickly improved my results and soon, I was a force to be reckoned with on the track. This was important because I wanted to be good. Scratch that – I wanted to be great! I didn’t want to just be, “that chick on the pink bike.” I wanted to be taken seriously.
I desired to be an inspiration for other little girls out there to say, “I can do whatever the hell it is I want to do too!” So, I always painted my bike pink. I wanted the kids out there to know that I was a girl, and that I kicked ass. And with lots of coaching, patience, and perseverance I landed myself on the top of the Canadian National podium. That was five really long years ago – five years of being off the bike.
My life is still motorcycles. I am blessed with the most beautiful son, who has talent dripping from his tiny fingers. And as a family, we ride together, travel together and support each other with this two-wheeled passion called motorcycling. But I’d crashed into the gravel and forgotten to get back up. Sound familiar?
Under the Kawasaki tent, I swung my leg over my bike and was transported back to that person I am. That badass-take-no-prisoners kind of person I used to be.
And I’m happy to say she’s back. Because I missed her.
My point then: I’d lost myself in my life. My daily responsibilities and creeping monotony took over. And I forgot who I was. For me, it was riding motorcycles, crashing… and remembering to get back up.
For you maybe it’s something else. Dust off that clarinet in the basement. Pull out your marathon sneakers. Start sketching again. Whatever it was that makes you beautiful, do it again. You will thank yourself for it, I promise.
So you, (yeah you) go forth! Crash… and remember to get back up.
By Amy Szoke, Canada