Worlds apart, a friendship built on dirt tracks and 50cc engines

Stefy Bau got his first dirt bike at age 4, an Italjet with a 50 cubic centimeter engine. She was a quick study. “I started running when I was 6,” said Ms Bau, who is 44 and lived in Turate, Italy, but now calls the open road home as a nomad. digital.

Tanya Muzinda got her first motocross bike at age 5, a Yamaha PW50, a cousin of Ms. Bau’s Italjet. One day, a year earlier, her father picked her up on a motorbike from kindergarten, and “that’s when I first got a taste for racing the motorbike,” said Ms Muzinda, a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Zimbabwe.

In 1982, Mrs. Bau’s father, a butcher shop owner in Saronno, Italy, bought a KTM 350 two-stroke enduro bike and rode trails on the weekends. Soon after, motocross – racing dirt bikes over tough terrain – became a family favorite, with motocross magazines strewn about the house.

“I received a sports education even before I learned to read and write,” Ms Bau said. “I identified the names of the colors with the names of the motorcycles.” Each brand had its own color: Honda was red, KTM was orange and Yamaha was blue. “For me the colors were KTM, Honda and Yamaha.”

Ms. Muzinda (whose full name is Tanyaradzwa Adel Muzinda) grew up with a different set of expectations. She was born in Harare, after her family moved to the capital from a nearby village – the first generation to do so.

“A lot of people, mostly Africans, look down on women and girls,” she said. The thinking goes, she says, that women should “stay home, do the dishes, do the laundry, cook and wait for the men to come home.” If they had enough money to send just one child to school, most families would send the “boy because they find it useless to invest in a girl’s future”, she said. added.

Two wheels changed his life. Ms. Muzinda’s great-great-uncle owned the family’s first pedal bicycle, which he passed down from generation to generation. “When my uncle’s turn came, he turned it into a kinetic motorcycle, which ran on gas, until it hit my dad,” she said. His father, Tawanda Polycup Muzinda, later traded him in for a Yamaha YZF-R6 Supersport motorcycle. It had a bigger engine and was “much faster”, Ms Muzinda said.

It was the kindergarten pickup bike, which set a life-changing dream in motion. Mr. Muzinda eventually sold this bike to buy his daughter her first motocross bike.

They had broken a family tradition: the family bike is normally passed on to the firstborn. “My dad passed his bike to me, a girl, which caused a lot of arguments between him and his dad and the whole family,” Ms Muzinda said. Her family didn’t see the point of having a girl on a bike, especially at her age.

Before long, however, she was racing in Zimbabwe – and winning most of them. Then came the races and the second places in Great Britain. Once she competed in the United States in the Bartow MX Regional Championships in Florida, she picked up more wins and won the 2021 overall championship in the 125cc boys and girls class.

Having moved to Florida in 2019 with her family, she competes in small local events and prepares for bigger pageants. “I hope one day to be on a bigger team with other great riders and gain more experience,” she said.

Ms. Bau found it easier with her family to support her dream, traveling through Italy and then Europe. When she was 6, she recalled: “I looked my mom and dad in the eye and said, ‘One day I’ll be the best runner there is, and I’ll be racing in the United States'”

His teenage years were filled with European races and long hours. As she racked up the wins, Ms. Bau also earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

In 1998, the Italian Motorcycle Federation turned down Ms Bau’s attempt to be the first woman to compete in the FIM Men’s World Championship. However, she competed in a women’s world championship in the United States at age 21. Neither she nor her mechanic knew a word of English. (However, Ms. Bau packed an Italian-English dictionary.) She won her first international title.

“With all my success in the United States, Italy called me,” she said. “It was in 2005 that I was asked to be the first woman to take part in the FIM World Championship. Now, on my terms, I have been able to fulfill a lifelong dream. In addition to three world titles in women’s events, Ms Bau became the first woman to run alongside men in the FIM World Championship and race on the super cross stage.

In October of the same year, however, Ms. Bau’s life changed in an instant: she suffered a career-ending injury. After spending most of 2007 learning to walk again and battling depression, Ms Bau became managing director of the newly formed company Women’s Motocross World Championship.

“It was a way to get back into the sport and share the know-how with all the female athletes to help them grow professionally,” she said.

In 2013, Ms Bau received an email from Zimbabwe. A young girl named Tanya had a passion for motocross; the family wanted Ms. Bau to become their coach and mentor. “I deleted the email,” Ms. Bau said. “Then a second email arrived. Same story. When the third email arrived, I decided to review it.

Ms. Bau flew to Zimbabwe. “It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “From the moment I saw this 9-year-old boy at the airport, I was in awe. The energy I felt in his presence made me want to do everything in my power to to help.

Ms. Bau worked her motocross connections to help outfit Ms. Muzinda with the proper gear, transitioning her from flip flops to full protective racing gear. Sponsors helped with merchandise and equipment, but dollars were hard to come by.

“The problem is that to compete at a higher level, funds are needed for travel, and that can be quite expensive,” Ms Bau said. “His dad is doing everything he can, working two jobs and all, but it’s still not enough to cover the cost of daily living for the family.”

Mrs. Muzinda has taken a job and Mrs. Bau is also helping financially. “It’s very difficult to fund a sport like motocross, especially since I’m a girl,” Ms Muzinda said. “Motocross is not a flagship sport in Africa. When looking for sponsors, the majority of potential sponsors had no idea what motocross was.

“I had times when I had to sit at home because of financial problems that prevented me from going,” Ms Muzinda added. “I know how depressing and demoralizing it is to see and hear everyone going to school while you stay at home hoping you can join the others.”

However, Ms. Muzinda seems to maintain a “never give up no matter what” attitude. She helps girls and young women to “provide better opportunities for generations to come”. To date, she has donated part of her award and sponsorship allowance to help with the education of over 200 Zimbabwean girls, as well as a few boys with special needs.

“Other women had to fight for the right for us to be where we are right now,” she said. She hopes that future generations will have more freedom.

“We were lucky to get some media attention with her powerful story,” Ms. Bau said. “We also hope to attract philanthropists and brands that see the same value.” Ms. Bau helps with sponsorship negotiations, found by Ms. Muzinda’s website.

The women formed an instant friendship, “an inner desire to give a chance to someone who was just born into a different culture but had the same passion as me”, as Ms Bau said.

For Ms. Bau, Ms. Muzinda is much bigger than motocross. She sees a girl with a passion identical to hers, with a desire to help others and change the world for the better. So much so that Ms. Bau helped the Muzindas move to Florida in pursuit of their daughter’s motocross dreams.

The transition wasn’t always easy, she says, “but over time I slowly started to become more comfortable and familiar with the lifestyle on this side despite all the days of homesickness”.