The Class 12 boards for long have been the make-or-break exam, one that sets a young person on the path to success or on the dirt road to drudgery. For Aishwarya Pissay, the dreaded school-leaving experience was of the breaking kind, only that it set her up for the biggest break of her life: motorcycling.
And what a ride it has been for the 22-year-old from Bengaluru, now fresh off her fifth national motor racing title. Three of Pissay’s titles have come in road racing, the other two at rallies. Pissay recently competed in her first international race — the Spanish Baja Aragon — where she was the first Indian woman to do so. She was also the only woman in 2017 to complete the Raid de Himalaya, India’s toughest motorsport competition. “In some sense, I was the family’s black sheep,” says Pissay. “At home, everyone’s done things in textbook fashion, and insisted I do a 9-to-5 job, but that wasn’t my thing.”
Riding a bike was her thing and that is what Pissay loves more than anything else in the world. She started racing because she wasn’t sure what to do after failing her boards. But she was ready to explore, and biking clicked.
What started as fun weekend trips with friends and borrowed bikes soon got serious. In 2014, Pissay participated in a show on MTV that saw her cover around 8,000 km from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to Cherrapunji in Meghalaya in 24 days. Pissay had found her calling.
Two years later, she enrolled in Coimbatore’s Apex Racing Academy and took part in her first competitive race. She failed miserably, but that only egged her on to do better and choose motorcycle racing as a career. “I failed my exams and now wanted to become a biker,” she says. When Pissay moved to TVS, she found the financial and technical support required to pursue her passion. Soon she was juggling on and off-road races in Chennai, Bengaluru and Coimbatore.
“You don’t see girls at these events often; the ratio of men to women is quite off, so of course I was told this isn’t the right thing for me, and that I wouldn’t last beyond a year,” she says.
Five national titles later, Pissay has turned some of those critics into fans.
Pissay doesn’t let gender get into the way. “I’m always asked if it’s tougher for me because I’m a girl, but that’s not the case,” she says. “I’m not trying to prove something to someone because I am a girl. No. The conditions are the same for them and me. Yes, they are physically stronger than me, that is why I work as hard as they do, and compete as fiercely as they do. I’ve been trained and taught just the way a guy would’ve been.”
That’s the kind of fire that has seen Pissay overcome some pretty unthinkable scenarios in her three-year career. At the Spanish Baja Aragon last year, she had a crash on the second day of the event that impacted her abdomen. With no visible external injury, Pissay, uncomfortable, just got up, picked up her 140-kg bike and finished the 10 km that were left for the day. At the first aid centre, it was found she’d suffered a pancreatic rupture. Pissay was rushed to surgery and was bound to a hospital bed for a month, only to return triumphant four months later to bag her fifth national title.
Last year, she broke her collar bone into three parts during a race. She let the doctors insert a steel plate and a few screws, got up from bed in five days despite being asked to rest for four weeks, worked with a physiotherapist, took part in a race, and won it with a round to spare.
“Well, it could’ve happened while falling down the stairs, you know,” she says, “At least it happened while doing something I love. So it’s cool.”
Pissay looks up to Indian off-road racer CS Santosh. Santosh is also the only Indian to have successfully completed the Dakar Rally, a gruelling off-road endurance event in South America that has competitors covering up to 900 km a day. That’s what Pissay is currently working towards – becoming the first Indian woman to take part in the extreme challenge that Dakar offers. At one point in her life, Pissay wanted to be a pilot. She’s flying high on two wheels instead, and it’s something the daredevil doesn’t complain about.
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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2019 23:37:09 IST