Cycle of life

Anissa Lamare, a young lady of 21, looks puny and tomboyish and can be mistaken for a high school lad. But don’t be deceived by her stature and the childlike smile. Anissa is the only woman downhill mountain biker in the country and has competed with men without any apprehension. Her story is already one of the subjects in a film on women with grit.
The student of Political Science at St Anthony’s College says she started cycling when she was a nursery student and got her first bike when she was in Class VIII.
“I would go out with the boys in the neighbourhood and cycle through the forests and the hilly terrain. That is how my love for cycling started,” says Anissa.
Anissa, who is lovingly called Suri, goes out with her old friends even today. The group practises in Malki Forest. She started mountain biking three years ago. The bikers follow a strict regime of four-day practice every week, besides physical training and workouts. But problems are aplenty. The cyclist says with no infrastructure at hand, they have to use the crude terrain and put up makeshift fencing to mark the track. “But the fencing is also destroyed. Every day we will find a portion of it broken,” says Anissa and further explains the problems to be in a minority sport.
Mountain biking is still in its crib in the country and only a few take it up as a serious sport. Anissa says it is catching up with youths in Pune and Bengaluru and there are professionals who train mountain cyclists.
The sport is not a poor man’s game and requires gears worth lakhs of rupees. A professional cycle comes for over Rs 5 lakh.
“That’s a lot of money for a middle class family. Forget about government help, there are no private sponsors also. I am still using a normal cycle, a Scott, which is not meant for downhill riding. My mother has been trying to collect money to buy the professional cycle but a second hand one that is costing over a lakh,” says Anissa with a smile.
However, she informs that a biker in Bengaluru is “helping” her since last year. Last year, Anissa and six others from Meghalaya went to Nagaland for participating in the Downhill Championship in Mokokchung district. Anissa was among the Top 7 in the 2015 Nagaland race where she used mountain bike for the first time. “But I want to go to Nepal because the competition there is at the international level. I would get to compete with the best bikers,” says Anissa, the excitement in her voice is palpable.
Anissa’s first off-road race where she used the BMX bike was in 2013, the 2nd Northeast Cyclo bhp Challenge. She qualified for the finals and was in the Top 10. The next year, she participated in the Guwahati Downhill Challenge and qualified for the final round. Last year, Anissa went to Bengaluru for the Mountain Bike Festival.
Does she feel intimidated while competing with men? “(I) cannot help it because there are no women professional mountain bikers. And I do not feel intimidated but take it as a positive sign because I can grade my performance against powerful professionals and likewise improve my timings. In the last competition, I was behind the toppers by a few seconds. It is a challenge that I gladly accept,” her face lights up with the usual mischievous smile of a teenager. Anissa says after completing college she will move to Pune or Bengaluru where she can pursue her dream. She is also hopeful that in the next five years, more women will come into the sport.
About her other love in life, the young cyclist, whose greatest inspiration is her mother, says there is none. “I do not think about anything other than cycling. It gives me a high.”
The feather-light cyclist confesses that as a cyclist, her time is limited as after a certain age, the career ends. “I might restart my career as a trainer and would like to organise races in the future,” says Anissa, who also loves to go on long drives.
‘Wild Women’, a film by Kopal Goyal, features Anissa among the 15 daring souls who are into different adventure sports and are competing with men with equal gusto.