Excerpt for Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment

To my parents,

With love and gratitude


The real authors of this book are the women who shared from their hearts. Many roads converged to arrive at the collective wisdom conveyed within these pages. Although the stories were gathered over the past three years, in reality, each message is the culmination of a lifetime of experiences. I am deeply grateful to these courageous women who entrusted me with the delivery of their messages. Their tales are told with references to time and biographical data reflecting the dates the original interviews were conducted.

Among these women, I’d like to extend special thanks to two who played a significant role in moving this book to fruition. Carla King was an inspiration as an adventurer, motorcyclist, writer and publisher. Genevieve Schmitt saw the concept as a finished product as soon as she heard about it. As experts and leaders in their respective fields, their support and encouragement was invaluable.

Special thanks go to Alison Cunliffe, editor extraordinaire, who was a delight to work with. Her eye for detail and abilities to pare and shape have crystallized and strengthened the message.

Author and Toronto Star Wheels Editor Mark Richardson saw the potential early on and was instrumental in the fledgling draft reaching maturity. He generously provided insights, expertise, candid feedback and inspiration along the way. Author and publisher Max Burns mysteriously believed in my writing ability and was one of the first to take a new writer under his wing and get her started in the right direction. Writer Lorraine Sommerfeld encouraged and prompted me while the book was still in its infancy. She also gave me the opening line. Writer Adrian Blake pitched in and connected me with several key contacts.

Thank you to Jackie Quinton and Tricia Secretan for their critical eyes and guidance. A very special acknowledgement to the Universe for delivering Tricia to the chair beside me at an authors’ night. That moment changed my life.

Linda Emblem coached me at a pivotal time and introduced me to the creative process that birthed this book. Around the same time, Stephen Walters entered my life and has ever since been a solid and generous supporter of my creative initiatives. Karen Hodgson lent her keen skills and endorsement.

Thank you to the many other friends, colleagues, clients and strangers who have extended kindness all along the way.

Finally, I have been blessed to have the influence of my Mennonite heritage and the enduring, enthusiastic and unconditional support of my parents and family, just as they have stood with me all my life.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1 – How Motorcycling Empowers Us

Chapter 2 – Perceptions on Power

Debbie Evans

Lise Grenier

Toni Sharpless

Madeleine Marques

Juanita Losch-Finlan

Nancy Irwin

Holly Ralph

Chapter 3 – Chariots of Change

Andrea Tillmann

Judith Eden

Diane Ortiz

Lois Pryce

Cheryl Stewart

Chapter 4 – Getting Past Go

Patti Pepin

Jolene Mosca

Cathy Walter

Teresa Vincent

Hazel Carson

Mary Barry

Chapter 5 – Dealing With the Unexpected

Sue Cannell

Roxie Malone

Kate Insley

Elizabeth Bokfi

Catherine Swift

Chapter 6 – Connecting With Spirit

Laura Culic

Kersty Franklin

Meg Thorburn

Ila Sisson

Chapter 7 – Discovering and Using Your Power

Carla King

Tigra Tsujikawa

Kellee Irwin

Catherine Nadeau

Oksana Buhel

Jennifer Robertson

Shelly Glover

Chapter 8 – Leading with your Heart

Doris Maron

Woody Woodward

Lesley Gering

Barbara Wynd

Chapter 9 – Sharing the Legacy

Sue Slate

Stefy Bau

Gwen Roberts

Yolanda Tesselaar

Chapter 10 – Riding Your Own Ride

Leslie Porterfield

Deb Grey

Audrey Alexandre

Genevieve Schmitt

Rebecca Herwick

The Last Word




What I am looking for is not out there. It is in me.” Deaf and blind author and activist Helen Keller

We are on a journey — a road trip — along our own path to awareness. Each one of us has been given choices on how we proceed. I think God has a sense of adventure and consider myself blessed that the motorcycle has long been an integral part of my journey. My motorcycle has carried me to people, places and experiences I would never have imagined possible. It has been my guide and has often been involved in some way when life has scheduled a lesson. I am where I am today because of the motorcycle.

Not everyone rides a motorcycle on their journey. There are many other ways to become aware of who you really are and experience all life has to offer. Some people paint, write, play music, go on retreats, meditate, travel, volunteer their time or coach sports. For me, it is the motorcycle.

How we learn to embrace and overcome challenges and reap the rewards weaves an exquisite tapestry that becomes the picture of who we are. This book is about our journey along our personal, emotional and spiritual path to enlightenment and becoming all that we are: why we’re on this road trip. The stories illustrate how motorcycling allows and encourages this. If you don’t relate to motorcycling, substitute what fits best for you. The message will still be clear.

At some point in our lives, we stand at a threshold we need to cross to reach our destination. This can be daunting, particularly when it is toward something non-traditional. Making the decision to cross that threshold has implications for how the rest of our life unfolds.

That threshold occurs at different periods in the life of each of us, often many times. We must look within, discover where we are and summon the limitless power that resides within us and moves us forward.

The motorcycle can transport us to awareness. Riding is a sensual, visceral, nourishing experience for body, mind and soul. It engages all our senses — sight, sound, smell, taste, touch — and our sixth sense of understanding and insight.

When I began this book, I knew only it was to be about women, motorcycling and personal power; and I would collect stories from women riders about how they discovered and used their own personal power. What difference did riding make in their lives? How did they transfer that to other areas of their lives? What difference did it make to those around them?

I hope the stories you are about to experience are even fractionally as significant to you as they were to me.


I lay in the mud and rain, the front tire of the motorcycle spinning in the air beside my head. In an instant, my life had changed forever.

I had started the day as a student at an off-road training course. Even for a day of riding early in the season, the weather was miserable. It was cold and rainy, and the woods were damp.

Our path led us to lush mixed pine and hardwood forests awakening from their winter hibernation. Our every breath brought smells of spring: the moist earth, damp bark on the trees, spring flowers, extravagant new undergrowth, the proliferation of green everywhere amid the puddles along the muddy, rutted trail.

Every so often, our instructor would stop, dismount and demonstrate how to navigate a particular hazard, and then we’d try it ourselves. Challenging ourselves, learning new skills and successfully steering around, over or through obstacles was invigorating and empowering.

Noon was on us before we knew it. The final reward for a morning of accomplishments was a stimulating ride through another part of the forest on the way back to the base for lunch and a chance to warm up. I was exhilarated, but I was also recognizing the onset of fatigue as unfamiliar physical exertion and the battle with the elements extracted their price.

As I crested a hill and began to descend, I saw my instructor and Nancy, another student, already stopped at the bottom, just before a small water hazard. What I didn’t see until it grabbed my front tire was a huge rut in the middle of the trail. I flew off my bike. I landed solidly on my right shoulder. I knew immediately my life had radically changed, if only because my right arm refused to move. I had yet to comprehend the magnitude of that change.

The instructor and Nancy ran up the hill to help. Someone pulled the bike off me and parked it to the side of the trail. I could see no obvious trauma and my arm didn’t hurt if I stayed still, but try as I might, it wouldn’t budge. I sat in the cold and rain, helpless.

My business centers on motorcycles, and it was the beginning of the season. This couldn’t have happened to me. I was fifty-four years old and on my own. How would I ever manage?

I believe everyone we come into contact with has a message to share, and so it was that morning. Trying to distract me, Nancy pointed out the trilliums carpeting the woods directly in my field of vision. I had noticed the flowers, or thought I had. The symbolism didn’t sink in until Nancy drew my attention to them. I had chosen the name Trillium Motorcycle Tours for my business because to me it meant springtime, growth, rebirth and hope, and it was the flower of Ontario, my home province.

I am right-handed, so everything I do involves my right arm. And on the motorcycle, the right hand controls the throttle and the front brake — moving forward, accelerating and stopping — all having to do with control and power. Even so, I was calm, partly because I was in shock and denial, but somehow I also knew a divine experience was unfolding. A course correction had just occurred and a special lesson awaited me. Now I had to discover where my power really was.

Nature is where I go to get grounded: walking along a deserted beach and marveling at the immensity of the ocean and the ceaseless cycles of the tide, or gazing at the stars and planets in an indigo sky on a cold, clear night. Most invigorating for me is a hike through a hardwood forest, and I am fortunate to have plenty of that in my back yard. I find a spiritual quality in the woods and an energy that doesn’t exist anywhere else for me. But this time my motorcycle had taken me into the woods and grounded me. When I came out in the passenger seat of an ATV, my shoulder was broken and my life was about to be very different.

What followed was the darkest period of my life. I felt broken, alone and abandoned. It hurt physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. I didn’t know how I could ever be whole again. I tried to focus on my belief that out of the darkness comes growth. I tried to want what was to come: exploring, discovering and listening to my inner self. I knew that growth process would be immensely rewarding and meaningful, but the light seemed so far away.

As I recuperated at home in quiet emotional darkness amid spring rains, though, ideas could take root. It was time to reflect, refocus and restore direction.

This book germinated during that period. I decided I would collect stories from women who rode: stories about how they triumphed over challenges and grew. Some of the stories would be about motorcycling; others would be about how lessons learned through motorcycling had gotten the riders through challenging times.

I soon realized as well that I needed an answer to a big question in my own story. How did I get to the point in life where I had needed to be awakened at forty-eight years of age, but then still needed a spiritual wakeup call in the woods six years later?

And so this book grew.

Chapter 1 — How Motorcycling Empowers Us

“When I pull up on my motorcycle, there is an assumption of ‘Wow, there’s a woman of strength,’ even though it's not about strength, it’s about balance.” President and CEO Rebecca Herwick

Ever since the first steam-engine motorcycle appeared in 1867, motorcycles have held a certain mystique. Not to diminish it or in any way take away from its power in symbolism and reach in metaphors, but a motorcycle is basically a piece of metal and a few other materials on two wheels. Yet it’s also so much more. It’s a partnership. Watching the mastery of rider over machine when they join together in perfect harmony is like observing a beautiful dance that gives birth to power, strength, balance and positive change.

The Oxford Dictionary defines power as “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.” Empowerment makes someone “stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.”

We all recognize power differently and vary in our perception of how much power we have. It could take the same amount of power for one person to travel the world as it does for another to summon the courage to begin a new job. Regardless of where we stand, using our power brings us happiness and fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment, meaning and purpose.

Often our power remains dormant or underutilized, but when we use our power, we discover more of it. So, how we manage our energy and who and what we give it to is very important. Negative thoughts and behaviors deplete us; positive actions affirm and grow our power base. And the ripple effects on others can be enormous. I had no idea my words would one day save a life. None of us do. So, it’s important to act from a position of love and gratitude rather than fear and negativity. Whichever we use spreads, so why not spread goodness?

Powerful people are usually defined by status, accomplishments, titles or accumulation of material possessions. These illusions can cause us to lose sight of our own power and who we are.

How does a motorcycle acquaint us with our power?

It appeals to our basic nature, satisfies primal needs and brings out our strengths by providing the following ingredients, which are essential to the survival of our souls:

  • Adventure. Riding calls to the unique wild nature within each of us. Eventually, we answer that call, and then wonder why we didn’t respond sooner. It brings us to who we are and our connection to all other living things, including the collective wisdom and unlimited power of the universe.

  • Connection with Spirit. Nothing stills my mind like a motorcycle ride as I embrace the peace of the present moment, where my power and creativity reside. Riding encompasses all my senses, including the sixth one. Riding is great for clearing my mind of clutter and leaving worries and fears behind.

    Any rider will tell you riding outside of urban areas is a spiritual experience. Traverse the mountains, cross the plains, pass through a forest or alongside the ocean and you can’t miss the connection to the universe. All your senses are engaged. Your eyes take in the grandeur and beauty. Your ears note the wind as it rushes by, the crashing breakers or the silence. You smell the freshly cut hay, the redwood forests, lilacs in the spring. You feel temperature changes as you alter elevation or latitude, or approach water. You taste the salt air and the clover.

    All that pales in comparison with how riding engages your spirit. You’re enveloped in feelings of peace, euphoria and joy, all rolled into one. It brings you into the now, where nothing except the present moment matters.

  • Freedom. Motorcycling represents freedom for many men and women. New riders get a taste of this as soon as they learn to ride and move even those first few feet under power. But initially, a rider is absorbed in learning how to operate the machine safely. Still, with proficiency, the feeling of freedom will grow.

    Our life paths have no shortages of twists and turns, which is why the motorcycle is ideal to carry us symbolically to where we are going. It’s flexible, versatile and when properly tuned, has more power than we’ll ever need to carry both us and our loads, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. The motorcycle is up to a challenge, change and variety. And we alone control our vehicle.

  • Confidence. Most of the women who participated in this book said they see other woman riders as the embodiment of power. Their body language exudes confidence, strength, fearlessness, independence and love of life. They have the courage to be who they are and not bow to stereotypes or be stopped by being told they’re too short, too weak or too feminine, or they’ll never learn. They’re skilled, proficient, determined. They have set their minds to accomplish something and then have done it. They are role models: interesting, fun-loving, full of moxie.

  • Independence. Riding a motorcycle is a solitary pursuit. When we’re riding, it’s us and our motorcycle. Even when we’re riding with a group, we’re alone with our thoughts, our fears and our beliefs. When we ride, we alone make the decisions about how our motorcycle is ridden and where it goes. As we deal successfully with progressive challenges, the successes are ours to claim.

  • Community. We all seek like-minded spirits, whether physical or spiritual, visible or invisible. Most new riders are amazed at the instant bond and the camaraderie and compassion among riders. Sometimes we’ve been searching for years for the right tribe to join. When we find our clan, though, we discover a common bond from which we not only derive strength as individuals, but also gather that strength to increase the cohesiveness of the community as a whole.

    This change may begin within a group of motorcyclists, but the effects soon spread to other areas of our lives. This helps explain why motorcyclists tend to contribute extraordinary amounts of time and effort to charitable causes, nurturing the less fortunate and sharing with the community.

  • Balance. Regardless of our DNA, we all carry feminine and masculine psychic characteristics, distinct from our biological gender. Both are essential to a vibrant life. Their dynamic tension must work together seamlessly in balance and harmony, or we lose power.

    Historically in our culture, however, we have separated these two energies in men and women to the detriment of our authentic selves. Just as the masculine has been bred out of females, the feminine has been bred out of males. So, we have the phenomenon of yin and yang. Yin, the female energy, is the receptor: dark and in some ways passive. This is the energy we relate to home, nurturing and community, and to being quiet and still. It gives birth to our creativity. Yang, the male energy, is the aggressor, outwardly focused and goal oriented. Its restlessness calls to our desire for adventure. Yang is the spark that ignites our creativity and brings our ideas into being. Both need to be in balance in order to create a whole.

    At first glance, a motorcycle is male psychic energy at its finest. It thrusts us forward, it’s forceful, directed, strong and dynamic, and it satisfies our need for adventure. Without a rider, though, without someone to channel its energy, it is powerless and goes nowhere.

    Riding fulfills a psychic need for women and gives their masculine energy an outlet. The motorcycle then becomes a receptor of direction, instructions and the attributes of the feminine psyche. The perfect psychic balance of feminine and masculine creates the whole and is the power that moves us forward. Even the relationship between rider and machine is a dynamic balance between feminine and masculine energies.

In spite of the call to our wild nature, we resist going with it. This happens with learning to ride or with many other challenges. But almost any barrier can be overcome if one wants to learn to ride. Ask Roxie Malone, who was told as a child she’d never walk, never mind ride a motorcycle.

Resistance is caused by fear and causes us to do silly things, which in turn drain our energy, make things much more difficult than they need to be and prevent us from progressing. One of my students was so frightened by the stories she’d heard about motorcycles, she was terrified to use the throttle. When she tried to move off, she’d release the clutch, but she couldn’t bring herself to activate the throttle. So, she would stall and lose her balance, which in turn reinforced her fear. I tried to get her to understand using the power would make things much easier, but she never was able to get past the fear.

The potential sources of fear are many.

  • Cultural training. Men originally wrote the rules for motorcycling and designed the game and the gear. Early women riders had to conquer this domination and defy societal expectations while riding bikes and wearing clothing designed for men. Even now, with greater participation of women, we’re still in the minority and sometimes still need to buck the system.

  • Opinions of others. Perhaps they’ll think we’re not feminine. Perhaps they’ll think we’re dykes. Families, friends and business associates all have an image of what a motorcyclist is. People regularly tell me, “But you don’t look like a biker.” But I must look like a biker, because I am one and have been for forty years. But what happens when someone who doesn’t ride wants to ask you on a date? Or what if he does ride and his bike is smaller than yours? Before we can change the way others view us, we must change the way we view ourselves.

  • Safety concerns. Families and friends worry about our safety, of course. Non-riders seem compelled to relate horror stories, complete with gruesome details of people who have been killed or maimed. But we know the risks and accept them and prepare for them. We overcome our fears and reap incredible rewards.

  • Dealing with change. A ride is always an adventure to some degree. Things happen when we’re out there. It starts to rain, there’s gravel in a corner, someone cuts us off, a detour diverts our carefully planned route, our GPS stops working. The list is endless, and when we’re motoring down the road on a five-hundred-pound-plus machine, things can unfold in a hurry. We have to have our wits about us at all times. We learn to be prepared for the unexpected.

  • Physical requirements. Am I strong enough to handle it? Am I capable of learning how to control it? What if I drop it? Potentially disabling thoughts abound, but motorcycling isn’t about manhandling our bikes. When they’re stopped, they’re heavy and awkward to move around.

    The smallest street bike starts at around two hundred and eighty pounds and most street bikes are at least four hundred and fifty pounds. When bikes are not under power, we’re no physical match for their weight. Maintaining balance, particularly at slow speeds, is essential to staying upright. Learning to ride entails finding the bike that best suits your riding style, understanding how to control it and making it work for you.

  • Finding others to ride with. If you don’t know anyone you can ride with, it may take a bit of work and gutsiness, but other riders are out there to be found — probably looking for you. It has been my motorcycle that has led me to the most interesting people and places.

  • Fear of failure. Admittedly, learning to ride can be daunting. If we fail to try, though, we have already failed. If we’re not committed to learning to ride, we won’t be successful.

  • Fear of success. If I learn to ride a motorcycle, maybe I also have the skills to apply for that new job. If my image of myself changes, so do my expectations of myself and those of others around me. At the root of it all is the fear of what we will discover about ourselves through riding. Mastering the initial physical steps is only the beginning. We’re alone when we ride and being alone with ourselves and our thoughts can make us feel very vulnerable. But once we’ve cracked the code to tapping into our capabilities and we discover the thrill of self-mastery, a whole new world opens up.

If we’re going to get anywhere at all, we need to recognize whatever fear is holding us back, and leave it behind. Everyone I spoke with has her own method of doing this, some more effective than others. The bottom line is to address the irrationality, savor the present moment, park fear and move on.

Lois Pryce, who has traveled the world on solo adventures, thinks about the situation she’s in — and she’s been in some dandies — and asks herself whether she would rather be in this predicament, having an adventure and trying to sort it out, or back in her office cubicle. That always gets her through.

Our culture as a whole is going through a massive shift as it seeks a restoration of balance and new equilibrium. Women increasingly have careers in engineering, the military and skilled trades. Women choose to remain single longer, delay having children and end unfulfilling relationships. Men take a greater role in child rearing and household chores, and enter careers in elementary education and nursing. Most importantly, the notion of choice has become acceptable: men and women alike are being encouraged to choose what works best for them individually and for their families.

And more women are riding motorcycles.

Women riding out of their own choice are indicative of the evolution for men and women alike. Women are now freer to challenge and conquer something not traditionally thought of as a female pursuit. A man can be proud to share something important with his partner at his side.

I often see women and men begin motorcycle courses with fierce determination pushing through the looks of abject terror. Something inside them propels them forward, keeping them going until they succeed. And then you see a smile light up each face, and it doesn’t go away.

This is the smile of the motorcycle rider. We have opened ourselves and connected with our souls. We’re completely exposed to the elements with no protection and nothing to act as a barrier between us and nature. We’re vulnerable, we’re strong and we’re free.

Women riders display a special energy, one others recognize and connect with. A bond is created by knowing we share the same freedoms and independence; by curiosity about what she had to go through to get here, who or what she had to challenge; and by a sense of relief that others are sharing the same experiences.

Many of the women I interviewed, however, don’t even consider gender when they see another woman rider. Rather, they see a person who has talent, sets goals, makes plans and goes for it. And it’s empowering to the observer to see someone else pushing through personal barriers, trying something new and testing limits.

Learning to ride is not so different from understanding ourselves. Once we understand what controls us, where our energy comes from, how we tap into it, what drains it, how to balance the myriad of choices and where it takes us, there’s no stopping us.

Understanding our machines can play a big part in this. It’s empowering to be able to diagnose and make at least basic repairs rather than giving that control to someone else. It can teach us as much about ourselves as we learn about the bikes. When we take our bike apart, we learn how it operates and discover that what we thought was so complex is really quite simple. It’s all objective. There’s no room for judgment, fears or biases. It’s all logically sound. Similarly, we can break down complex challenges into their manageable components and what once seemed insurmountable becomes doable.

We also realize that everything is connected, including that we as people share a common spirit and source of power. If we allow ourselves to accentuate differences — gender, age, culture, values or even the type of motorcycle we ride — that separates us. Looking for what we have in common creates harmony and strengthens us all. We have all have a role here on earth, and as we come to understand that we are connected to everything alive; we come to understand that everything that we do matters; we move to thoughts and behaviors with a positive effect on those around us.

Whether we’re riding or facing a new challenge, we learn to look toward our destination, focus on our goal. We deal with the changes and bumps on the road, always maintaining control and momentum. Our mirrors tell us where we’ve been, and we check them often to learn from our past as we move ahead.

We have all had to use our strength to achieve what we’ve got, and women riders have had the extra hurdle of overcoming the maleness of motorcycling. We find a momentum reflected in many positive ways and can transfer that to many other areas of our lives.

Chapter 2 — Learning the Controls

Riding taught me a lot about life and it's probably why I am such a success today. I can shut that thing off that says I can’t do it.” Star stuntwoman Debbie Evans

I woke up at age forty-eight. I began to discover I had an untapped reservoir of power. Like flood water pushing against a levee, that reservoir was beginning to push against my self-erected barriers, opening the gate to the road that would bring me back to me.

The family, culture and society into which I arrived on this earth were instrumental in shaping the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that guided my early behavior. Traditions, role models, religion, fairy tales and myths, all passed down from one generation to the next, set the expectations based on cultural norms, including expectations based on gender. A strong work ethic, kindness, compassion and core values were among the strengths. Conversely, there were many learned fears and an aversion to risk taking that had a great deal of influence on my confidence, self-esteem and perception of how much power I had.

The innate wild woman had been tamed, but as with anything else in nature, my sense of self was yearning to be free. It was only a matter of time until something would give so I could be authentic. The Bhagavad Gita avers that:

“Even as a person casts off worn out clothes and puts on others that are new, so the embodied self casts off worn out bodies and enters into others that are new. This self cannot be cut, burnt, wetted or withered. Eternal, all-pervading, unchanging, immovable — the self is the same forever.”

Understanding my own personal power, what it was, where it was, and the challenges that prevented me from using all of it, became a priority for me. I began to reflect on my life and how I had become trapped inside my shell. I needed to understand how I had gotten there so I could take back control, get back on track and stay there.

My relationship with riding and personal power has been inextricably intertwined throughout my life. My involvement with motorcycles has paralleled periods of growth in my life and taken me on an odyssey of self-discovery that carried me back to who I was.

My German ancestors embraced the Mennonite culture that emerged from Europe’s Reformation in the Sixteenth Century. Known for their superior agricultural abilities, they caught the attention of Catherine the Great, who was seeking foreign settlers to colonize part of what is now the Ukraine. With promises of land and assurances they could keep their language, religion and traditions and live in self-contained colonies, they began migrating to this new country in 1789. (James Urry, Mennonites, Politics and Peoplehood. University of Manitoba Press, p. 85)

The Mennonite tradition of which I speak is not the same as the “old order” horse and buggy Mennonites, or Amish. Ours was a more moderate version. People chose to live more in the world, although still separate from it.

My grandmother and her twin sister were born in 1898, and life was relatively good during their early years, but the Russian Revolution struck in 1917. Anarchy ruled. Parties of opposing soldiers, “Reds” and “Whites”, in turn passed through villages, indiscriminately plundering and pillaging as they went, taking anything of value. Desperate robber gangs scavenged what was left.

My grandmother and the cousins she lived with erected a false wall in their barn to protect what little food and valuables they had: some grain, potatoes and beets — and a motorcycle. It was all they had, other than the personal strength and power of those who survived. The degree of hardship they experienced is unimaginable to me. Where they had once been prosperous farmers and peaceful, law-abiding citizens, they were now starving peasants, fearing for their lives at every moment. The government confiscated crops and seed grains, creating famine across the land.

My grandparents were able to flee in 1924, with barely more than the clothes on their backs. The motorcycle was left behind and, to my knowledge, my grandmother never rode a motorcycle after coming to Canada. Her sister, who is still living, did, though. When she was ninety-one, my eighty-year-old uncle took her for her first ride on his Honda Gold Wing.

My parents were born in Canada into the Mennonite Brethren culture and I was raised in that faith. I was blessed in that it was a culture of strong ethics, generosity and humanity, but it also discouraged questioning what you’re taught. That made it difficult to believe in my personal ability to take charge of my life.

My arrival in this world was followed over the next twelve years by that of five siblings. How my parents managed to raise us all and survive financially on a fruit farm is still a mystery to me, for all the work ethic they passed on to us.

Out of necessity, gender was not much of an issue when it came to assigning work on the farm. We all learned to drive the tractor, pick cherries and harvest rhubarb by hand. Peaches were different. For some reason, the men and hired help picked the peaches, while the women stayed in the barn, sorting and packing the fruit for market.

When the time came for secondary school, I was bused to one run by the church. I was the Ugly Duckling. I didn’t belong and I hated every moment there. I developed stomach ulcers. My restlessness with religious traditions had started and the first signs of rebellion were surfacing. After two years, I refused to go back and I moved to a public secondary school.

All the while I was growing up, I found the underlying values of love, charity, respecting and serving to be solid, and I embraced them then and still do. The fundamental “blind faith” part was a different matter.

“The end is near” was an ever-present threat to toe the line and I spent many years trying to be good. What if the rapture happened and I didn’t make the cut because I was a doubter? Such fears insidiously usurped my power from an early age. I know now I don’t need fabricated rules to tell me what’s right and wrong, and my faith in God has never been stronger, but I had to move away from organized religion to appreciate and embrace this. It took forty-eight years and a few motorcycles to arrive at that awareness.

I was introduced to my first one when I was sixteen and my younger brothers paid eighty-five dollars for a used Honda 50 step-through to get around on our farm. My parents didn’t bat an eyelash when that motorcycle came home. I was raised to be independent and to see me learn to ride never seemed like a big deal to them. To me, it was fun and a little adventure. I didn’t even know about the barriers to riding until I heard others talking about them. The Honda was easy to learn on and it was just something we all did. A couple of years later, my brothers moved up to a 125cc Yamaha and that sealed my interest. From then on, a motorcycle was always there, waiting to take me to where I needed to go, physically or spiritually.

My early exposure to non-traditional thinking colored my perspective, and learning to ride didn’t seem a big deal at the time. It was somewhat of a paradox. Conformity in a religion and culture were drilled into all of us, but something so non-traditional as a daughter riding a motorcycle was completely accepted.

Weather can make or break a farmer’s season. I remember many times when everything looked so promising. Then a late frost would wipe out the peach blossoms. Or we had a bumper crop, but then I would see Dad standing at the open barn door on a hot, humid summer day, watching in helpless agony as hail beat down and in a few devastating minutes, wiped out the entire harvest.

It wasn’t until I was well into my motorcycle touring business that it dawned on me I, too, had chosen a business heavily dependent on weather. Cold and rain deter clients. After all the weather disasters growing up, I had chosen something with the same hazards. That insight on the effect of our upbringing came to me as I was trying to understand my preoccupation with scarcity and financial hardship.

I followed my mother’s footsteps into nursing, never imagining I was capable of going to university despite my outstanding grades. Besides, it intimidated me, and it wasn’t done in our community. After I graduated from nursing and began working full time, I bought a 175 Honda XL and rode it back and forth to the hospital. I suppose it was unusual to some, but to me, it was just something I did.

I married a man who was kind, loving, intelligent, educated and resourceful, had a sense of humor, rode a motorcycle — and was from outside the “faith”. I thought he could help get me away from it.

When I took a new name on my wedding day, I was shocked by my sense of loss and bewilderment. I attributed it to wedding-day jitters. I expected marriage to take me away to a whole new world. I didn’t realize what a huge disservice I was doing to myself and my husband; nor did I have any inkling of how it would disperse my own power.

Our wedding gift to each other was a brand new motorcycle we could share, although the ownership was in my name. The symbolism escaped me at the time but that motorcycle was always there for me. I had given up my name but right there with me was my link to who I was.

Life was perfect. At least that’s the way it appeared. I had a good husband, we both had well-paying jobs and promising careers, and the whole world awaited us.

But the cracks soon appeared. Within the first six months, I started having panic attacks and then became ill with mononucleosis. Attributing it all to rapid life changes, we carried on. It helped that we were close to beautiful countryside where we could escape and ride for hours.

My power was plastered over. My choices for both career and marriage partner were the outcome of my fear-based thinking and self-fabricated limitations. My inner guide was trying to talk but I was too afraid to listen. It drained my energy and left me ill.

I finally left hospital nursing in 1979 and migrated to occupational health nursing in a steel plant. Here was a spark of life as a fascinating new world opened up. It wasn’t a usual field for a woman, but my years on the farm and my years of riding helped give me credibility and the ability to function effectively in a man’s world.

Recession came, though, and the downsizing included me. By this time, my stomach ulcers were back. A few months later, an opportunity to operate a home nursing service presented itself and an entrepreneurial spirit I didn’t know I had leapt at the chance. It was another sign of life.

I was no longer attending church, but I had been raised to believe marriage vows were sacred, so we were seeing a marriage counselor. Besides, it wasn’t as though anything was overtly wrong. I kept reminding myself of all the good things in my life.

Motorcycling was calling to me, too. I found a lovingly used 750 BMW for my husband, so we each had our own vehicle. We enjoyed a lot of traveling. Now that I look back on it, regaining a motorcycle of my own signaled a grasp for strength and autonomy. Back at work, my career started heading toward corporate training.

Travel and exploring other ways of life seemed a way to liven things up a bit, so we began vacationing in foreign lands, often in third world countries. It was eye-opening and provided clues about my own challenges. Fears run across all cultures; mine were not unique.

It was far from a quick process, though. I even became listless about motorcycling and we sold our bikes in the mid Nineties. It paralleled the apathy in my life at that time. Whatever personal power I was aware of had been buried beneath multiple layers of protection built to fend off the pain of an unsuccessful relationship, a life that held little meaning and a sense that I could do little about it.

We had good careers, earned good incomes, built a beautiful custom post and beam house in the country, traveled all over the world — and I was miserable. This couldn’t go on forever. Eventually, that small inner voice that was crying through all those layers to be heard began to get some attention. The fates were conspiring to help me rediscover who I was and what I was here to do.

The stories in this chapter reflect how the environment in which we’re raised can affect our perception of power and our personal capabilities. The education we receive during this time will do one of two things: it will nourish us and encourage us to be who we are with full knowledge and access our wild nature, or our nature will be covered over to varying degrees. When that happens, we will have to call on our warrior selves to find and release it again. These women reflect both perspectives — and what happens when we look at things differently.

Debbie Evans Leavitt

Occupation: stunt woman

Location: Hollywood, California

Age: 53

Riding Discipline: trials, off-road, street, stunts

Began Riding: 1964


Debbie Evans is considered one of Hollywood's top stunt women. She began riding motorcycles at age six and competing at age nine. In 2003, she was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

She has appeared as a motorcycle stunt rider and stunt performer in over three hundred movies and television programs. She has won seven Taurus World Stunt awards: for Best Work With a Vehicle in The Fast and the Furious (2002) and Date Night (2011); Best Specialty Stunt in Taxi (2005); and Best Stunt by a Stuntwoman in The Fast and the Furious, Matrix Reloaded (2004), Superman Returns (2007) and Wanted (2008).

Debbie was the first woman to ride well enough to compete against the men at the National and World Championship level in the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme’s Trial World event. Finishing well ahead of any other women made her the unofficial women’s champ.

As the only woman among two hundred and eighty entries at the Scottish International Six Days Enduro (ISDE), she finished fourth in the under 250 cc class and one hundred and ninth overall, effectively silencing the British men who were betting on which day she would DNF (Did Not Finish).

Debbie has road-raced at Daytona and won many trophies for desert enduros. She has been married for thirty-two years and raised three children, proving that women can balance career and family.

I've never let other people’s perceptions of what I should be able to do stop me from doing anything. If I had, I would never have accomplished anything. A prime example of this was when I was asked to do some road-bike stunt work for the movie Torque. I have an extensive motorcycle-riding background, but they were asking me to do things I'd never done. If I had gone out and polled a hundred people on, “Do you think a mother of three in her mid-forties could learn these tricks?” what do you think they would they say?

Probably because of my motorcycling background, the thought never even crossed my mind until later. On the first day, I was doing seat stands, tank stands, rolling burnouts ( While rolling forward, apply the front brake and rev the engine at the same time. Pop the clutch, causing the rear tire to spin. Can be done in a straight line, zigzags or a circle. Makes very nice smoke!) and crossovers (Sit on the tank with your legs over the front of the motorcycle.). On the second day, I was skitching (Get the bike going about 45 mph, click it into neutral, and slide yourself off the back so that your feet are dragging behind it. I connect a strap across the seat so I have something to brace myself on and then, when I’m ready to get back on, I just put more pressure on my feet, it pops me up and I pull the bike underneath me.) off the back and side, doing crossover wheelies and endos (Grab your front brake, making the rear wheel come up.). Riding taught me a lot about life. It’s probably why I am such a success today, because I can shut off that thing that says, “No, you can't do it.” Or, “It hurts too much. Stop!” You'll never get to the finish that way.

My first motorcycle at age nine came from a junkyard. It was a box of parts, all spray-painted blue, even the wheels. Wearing a hood to protect my eyes, I stood at the wire wheel, meticulously cleaning every part. Then my dad and I put it all together. I had my first bike — and schooling in mechanics and patience.

As a kid, I didn't fit in much because I was a tomboy. I got a lot of ridicule. I loved anything active and outside and because few other girls were riding, I competed against the boys. When I got out on my motorcycle on the weekends, I thought, “Who cares? You guys are all a bunch of losers.” In fifth grade, I was already riding with the wind in my face and all that junk was falling off behind me. Eventually, everybody has some difficult part in their life. Nobody gets away unscathed. Motorcycles are very healing when it comes to that.

I always liked Trials because of the challenge. I enjoyed competing against myself as much as someone else. I could go off, find a challenging rock and just keep going at it until I made it over the first time. Then I’d have a couple of bad times where I didn't do well, but I’d keep going until I mastered it.

Early on, I had other lessons in perseverance. At age eleven, my parents and I were competing in a little Poker Run Enduro in the desert. I was miffed when my mom fell and I figured I’d go on ahead on my own. Rain turned to snow, which obscured the markings. Somehow I got off course and I decided to wait on a hill where I had a better perspective. Many people were lost and I could see them wandering around in the desert.

Freezing, hungry, alone and finally crying, I waited and waited for a familiar face. At long last, a friend of my dad found me and we made our way back. You don't know you can go through something like that until you do. Too many people give up before they reach victory or even get close to being a success, because they tell themselves it can’t be done. To keep going even when it’s rough, when I was so tired, everything hurt and I wanted to stop, is tough. But I knew that if I kept going I would get to the finish.

Stunts have taught me how to calculate and manage risk. When I first got the call to work on the movie Deathsport with David Carradine and Claudia Jennings, they wanted me to jump a thirty foot ravine on an old Yamaha DT 400, clad with about seventy pounds of metal to make it look futuristic. I had never jumped that far on a motorcycle with nothing underneath me. We set up a ramp, measured out the distance on a road, made the jump and measured how far we'd gone. We kept progressively increasing the jump until we were at the distance plus five and doing it every single time. I had no speedometer, so I had to be dialed in to the sound of the motor. I knew what I needed to do and got it done because I focused on the landing.

If you don't have a healthy sense of fear, you're going to get hurt. In stunting, we take calculated risks, look at everything, dissect it, plan it to make it as safe as possible. We want to go to work the next day. It’s very much like riding Trials. You walk each section and figure out the best line through.

When you get on a movie set, everything becomes very confined. There are cameras, C-stands, people, cars coming in from here and there and all these obstacles that you need to deal with down to the smallest detail. The skills I need here all come from what I've learned from motorcycling. You don't want to look at the thing that you don't want to hit, because your body will go there. So you look where you want to go.

Even so, at age forty-nine, I had a very bad accident on Yes Man. I was riding a motor scooter with Jim Carrey’s double on the back. We’d done the shot a whole bunch of times, but this time one of the cars was off on its speed, causing another car to hit me. I had multiple fractures, got knocked out and was hospitalized for nineteen days.

I've learned through motorcycle riding not to look at the problem but to look at the goal. So, I'm back to work. Many people wouldn't even think that they could get back to work — or even try. That thought never even crossed my mind. It was just a matter of when. In less than a year, I was back on my motorcycle. My trust in God helped. I think I can remember maybe two days when I was thinking, “Why me?”

My mechanical background has given me a great deal of confidence in all areas of my life. I know that many women are afraid to do something because of what may happen. If they can learn basic mechanics so they have an understanding of the motorcycle and start with short trips, whether it’s on the road or dirt, the difference is amazing. Learning mechanics and learning to ride correctly is very freeing. It gives you a sense of power and a sense of peace. It helps you to overcome that fear of the unknown.

I was a girl. I wasn't supposed to play sports. I wasn’t supposed to ride motorcycles. When I got into the business I was told, “You can't be married and be a stunt woman. It just doesn't work. None of the marriages work.” My husband and I have been married for thirty-two years. Or, “If you have kids, you can kiss your career goodbye.” Well, I have three kids.

It's a lifestyle and you can make choices. When the kids got old enough, they’d ride on the back. Steve rode his own bike with no training wheels at age four, Daniel at three and Rebecca at five. We used to go camping and riding together on dirt bikes. It’s a great family sport. We took the kids all the way to Tennessee and they competed in the youth nationals. My daughter finished first in her class and my son Daniel’s got two national championships for his age group.

It's funny, because when I had the last two kids, I thought, “Maybe I shouldn't be doing this,” and I backed off for a bit. I wasn't as happy. Somebody talked me into going back to work because they really needed me. I went and came home happy and energized. I realized that God gave me these gifts and talents and I’m better to everyone, including myself, if I'm using those gifts. Everybody's got a gift that they've been given and something they enjoy doing and they should be able to express themselves in that way.

When I was talking to my dad the other night, it was just so clear that I'm a confident, independent person because of my motorcycling. I love my family and want to have them around me. It’s not that kind of independence. It's just that I can take off and go anywhere and feel completely fine. I like to tell other people, and especially women, “Don't let other people’s opinions stop you. If you’ve got a dream in your heart, figure out a way to make it happen. You can do it!”

Lise Grenier

Occupation: provincial motorcycle coordinator, Ontario Provincial Police president, Ontario Association of Police Motorcycle Instructors; ride master, OPP Golden Helmets Motorcycle Precision Riding Team

Location: Orillia, Ontario

Age: 43

Riding Discipline: street

Began Riding: 1992

Lise is becoming legendary as she has progressed steadily through the ranks of the motorcycling division of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Twenty-one years ago, when she started her career, you would have been hard pressed to find two more solidly male bastions than the police force and motorcycling. Lise never considered she couldn’t do either. She was raised with traditional values and believed she could do anything she set her mind to.

She can ride circles around just about anyone on her big police Harley, and she is an extraordinary leader and mentor to an ever widening circle of protégées.

I joined the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) Force in 1988 and was posted at the Port Credit Detachment near Toronto — totally out of my element. I was the youngest of eight, born and raised on a farm near Sturgeon Falls, a small town in northern Ontario, so it was a bit of a culture shock. I had to mature fairly quickly and develop confidence to deal with whatever came up.

In 1992, the OPP offered a three-week motorcycle course. That sounded pretty cool. On your first day, you had to pick up this eight hundred and fifty pound Harley-Davidson Police Special, and thank God they taught some techniques for that. We took those motorcycles through every road surface possible, grass, sand, asphalt and bushes: everywhere that could come up during enforcement.

By the time I graduated, I was bruised in every way possible, but I loved it. If it’s raining or if it’s snowing, you don’t want to be out there in some ways, but I still say the worst day on a motorcycle is better than the best day in a car.

The course itself boosted my confidence because it was all male instructors and I was the only woman student. Deep inside I was thinking, “I’m going to show them I can do this job.” In 1988, some men didn’t think it was a job for women. Now it’s different. Getting out there and working in what I was trained to do made a big difference in thinking with both the male officers and me.

In 1997 I joined the OPP Golden Helmets Precision Riding Team and in 1999 I became an instructor. I actually came and taught all these people in the OPP how to ride! I had to show them first that I’m capable of doing this stuff and I can actually teach them how to do that. In a lot of cases, I’d have to get on the bike and start whipping through some cones and doing some tight turns just to prove it.

Later, I became heavily involved in the Ontario Association of Police Motorcycle Instructors and am now the president. We introduced the Great Lakes Police Training, four days every year for police officers on motorcycles from across Canada and the United States to improve their riding skills. We include a bit of a rodeo, ending with a friendly competition. I’m pretty pleased that this year, I came in fourth out of one hundred and twenty riders.

Last year I was promoted into a new position, Provincial Motorcycle Coordinator. I’m responsible for ensuring all the motorcycles have been properly equipped so the officers can do their jobs.

I’m the Ride Master for the twenty people on the Golden Helmets. I’ll tell you they’re the best bunch of guys to work with. The fact that I'm a woman just doesn't faze them whatsoever. I’m also in charge of the VIP escorts for any dignitaries coming into town: the Prime Minister and any Presidents. I’ve escorted the Pope, the Queen, Lady Diana and Prince Charles in 1991. I actually cared for the two boys, Prince William and Prince Harry, for ten days, doing things like taking them to McDonald’s or swimming.

We deal with a lot with children, especially with the Golden Helmets performances. The kids can approach us and talk to us. We travel the province, sell regalia during our performances and donate the proceeds to a children’s charity.

After a performance, the women and girls all line up at the “girl’s” bike to meet me and congratulate me. I get that a lot and it’s a really good feeling. I get silly comments, too, mostly from men, about special concessions because I am a woman, so it pleases me to tell them, guess what, I trained all these guys here.

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