For the members of Iraq’s gold medal-winning women’s cycling team, the dangers of the war with ISIS, being fought just 25 miles away from where they train in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, have become a second-nature hazard. The women zoom through the streets, their coach in tow shooing away motorists who dare drive too close to the six champion cyclists, as they prepare for new competition and new victories. The Independent sent a reporter to follow the rarefied athletes as they trained and, in interviews, it’s apparent the riders are there for the love of the sport, a thrill of competition that allows them a temporary escape from the topsy-turvy world Iraq has become in recent years. “When I ride my bike I feel like I’m in a different world,” Sozi Dilshad told The Independent. “In a race, the only thing I am thinking about is getting to the finish line. We have to really focus, which requires energy, and we get very tired — but at the same time, the focus means I’m not thinking about problems in my own life.” Dilshad, though she fiercely wants to be a world champion cyclist, also has a goal of achieving a degree in law. “As a female cyclist,” she said, “the best thing is to have a degree and then you can be a representative for your country, go abroad and have an impact.” She’s not the only team member who, despite the deep love for the sport, views cycling as a means to another end. Her teammate, 21-year-old Zryan Atar, has dreams of a much more glamorous career that would be a far cry from the bicycle — and the depravities of ISIS.
Read the full story at The Independent.