In February, spectators at the season opening motocross championship in Busiika were treated to drama when a woman hopped onto her bike and competed against men. Before long, she fell off her bike, broke her arm and lips got bruised. That was Hadijah Nannyondo, a UPDF Sergeant.
Growing up, Nannyondo dreamt of a future in motocross, a form of motorcycle racing held on enclosed off-road circuits.
At seven, she made a wooden bicycle that she would ride in their compound and around the village. During her teens, she taught herself how to ride bicycles. Later, she tried her hand at motorcycles. She proved so good at it that some people mistook her for a boy.
“Back then, it was almost unacceptable for a girl to ride a bike in our village. I remember the many falls, but because I was a tomboy, I persisted and mastered the skill of riding steadily,” she says.
“I used to ride bajaj bikes like those used by boda boda cyclists. And such bikes were usually ridden by men.” In 2010, she attended a race at Entebbe Botanical Gardens and watched young boys flying their bikes. After the race, she approached Arthur Blick Jr, the national motocross champion and told him about her love for the sport.
“Blick told me that a standard bike would cost shs10m. I would also need money to buy other necessities like a riding license and protective gear,” says Nannyondo.
Of kind bosses
Nannyondo could not raise the Shs10m , so she went to her bosses. Army big shots like Lt Gen Ivan Koreta, Col Felix Kulayigye and Lt Col Godfrey Muwanguzi, among others, contributed Shs1.7m for her, but it was insufficient. Luckily, Nannyondo was sent to Somalia on African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) duty.
“When I got selected to go to Somalia, I felt closer to my dream. I saved my handsome Amisom salary to buy a bike. On return, I added my savings to the Shs1.7m and bought a brand new Yamaha 125cc at Shs5m,” she explains.
With her bike, she headed to the Uganda Motor Sports Arena in Busiika to gauge herself against the mighty riders in the season opening championship on March 2.
Nannyondo’s expertise at riding the ordinary bikes made her think that she was ready for a race. At Busiika, she just jumped onto her bike and raced against the boys. Not many spectators knew it was a woman racing against men.
After the first round, she fell unconscious and broke her right arm but picked up her bike to resume. Unfortunately, the bike could not start and she bowed out.
“I went to Busiika to race, nothing was going to stop me. Even with an injured arm and bruised lips, I was still raring to go had it not been for my bike to fail me,” she adds.
Despite not finishing the race, the organisers acknowledged her bravery and awarded her a certificate of participation.
“The certificate kept me going and God willing, I shall soar higher in this sport,” she says.
The common challenge in motocross is finances. Buying a bike, servicing it, transporting it plus acquiring the required protective gear is costly.
According to Yasin Bukala, a rider, medium gear set containing boots, overall, helmet, safety glasses, torso guard, knee and elbow caps cost Shs1.8m.
With no stable source of support, Nannyondo struggles to attain her dream. “I have no gear to protect my torso, elbows, and ankles. All I have is an overall and pair of boots and non-professional gloves which I bought at Shs600,000 from St Balikudembe Market, Owino. In Busiika, my hands got broken because the gloves didn’t give adequate protection to my hands,” she adds.
Call to women
Nannyondo wishes women to join the sport and give it a feminine touch. “I hate reading about men only in the papers.” She dreams of starting a women’s team to race in Uganda and beyond.
“Isabella Blick is a good example, she is young and talented. We need to nurture such children into super stars. “I also feel happy seeing Susan Muwonge and Leilah Mayanja tussling it out with men in motorsport,” she says.