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Activist Shannon Galpin Uses Bikes As Vehicle for Women’s Voices, Social Justice‏

(Shannon Galpin walks through the streets of Afghanistan with her bike. Photo: Mountain2Mountain)
(Shannon Galpin walks through the streets of Afghanistan with her bike. Photo: Mountain2Mountain)

 

By Julie Huynh

Like any other person turning the big 3-5, Shannon Galpin set out for an adventure-filled celebration. She packed up her single speed bike, helmet, and lycra, and prepared herself for a solo vacation in… Afghanistan? Wait… that doesn’t sound right. Who goes to a war zone to celebrate a birthday?

“This is a bad idea. Breathe. Just breathe. Steady. Just let go of the brakes and ride through. You got this. You know how to ride a bike. Damn, these rocks are sliding! Worst trail ever. Don’t crash. Please, please, please. Not here. 

Dust stung my eyes. My hair was sweaty and plastered to my head under my checkered head scarf. Suddenly the tires stopped sliding and I was on level, solid ground. The mountain had spat me out alive. As if a mute button was released, sound flooded my ears: cheering. Six hundred boys were cheering. I looked up for the first time since I’d started my descent and smiled in relief through the cloud of dust. Six hundred Afghan boys smiled back. And one threw a rock. Six hundred to one? I’ll take those odds.” – Excerpt from Galpin’s book, Mountain to Mountain 

(Photo: Mountain2Mountain)
(Photo by Travis Beard/Mountain2Mountain)

Everyone wants to change the world and leave some kind of impression, but where does one start in such an endeavor?

Galpin, founder of the non-profit organization, Mountain2Mountain (M2M), is the first woman to ride her bike through the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan.

Also named 2013 National Geographic Humanitarian Adventurer of the Year, author of recently published memoir, Mountain to Mountain, and mother to a bright 9-year-old girl named Devon, Galpin recalls the reasons why she built a platform to fight gender violence and help women find their voices.

“My first year of college, I was attacked, raped and left for dead,” Galpin said. “I never talked about it because I didn’t want to be labeled a victim. Years later, my sister who is almost a decade younger than me was attacked and raped at her college.”

Galpin’s belief is that a transformation in the perception of victimhood, both on an individual and global level, must be made in order to combat the apathy that prevented people from taking action.

Despite her successful career as a sports trainer in Breckenridge, Colorado, Galpin felt a pull to shift her course and act on her desire for change in gender violence.

“I was sick of the apathy I saw in the world,” Galpin said. “I was sick of the violence, some of which had affected both me and my only sister. I was tired of the status quo. What would the world be like for Devon?”

Woman on a Mission

With the future safety and well-being of her daughter in mind, Galpin sold her house and car in 2006 and announced to her family that she was creating an organization called Mountain2Mountain.

The basis of her organization’s name is simple: A woman from one mountain community reaching out to help women in other mountain communities, particularly in conflict countries.

Repeatedly ranked as the worst place in the world to be a woman, Galpin picked Afghanistan as her first destination. Most people would not pair being a mother and working in a war zone together, but Shannon Galpin is not most people.

(Girls learning how to ride bikes in Kabul. Photo: Fatima Haidary/M2M)
(Girls learning how to ride bikes in Kabul. Photo: Fatima Haidary/M2M)

“For me, the two is very intrinsically tied,” Galpin said. “What if these Afghan girls were Devon? Why are their lives worth less than hers or mine? Someone needs to fight for them. I would want someone to fight for [Devon] if I couldn’t.”

Since founding M2M, Galpin has been to Afghanistan nineteen times. Her first trips were to learn more about what the country was like and to assess how she could be of use.

Then, in October 2009, on her 35th birthday, Galpin laid the rubber tires of her single-speed bike down in the Panjshir Valley for the first time. Don’t worry, she didn’t do it in lycra. In a land where women are forbidden to ride bikes, she sported a head scarf underneath her helmet, jeans, and a long dress to cover.

“Afghan women are not allowed to ride bikes. But I’m not Afghan,” Galpin said.

Standing 5’9″ with her long blonde hair and blue eyes, Galpin explains how she was able to break that cultural barrier and bring her bike to Afghanistan.

“While many back home assume being so obviously a foreigner is an inherent risk, it has become my biggest asset,” Galpin said. “A foreign woman here is a hybrid gender — An honorary man.”

This type of status has allowed Galpin uncommon access and unique insight into a complicated region of the world. With the aide of an interpreter and a locally respected Afghan, Galpin was able to travel and feed her curiosity of a country that is often ridiculed due to its terrorism, oppression, and war.

A Scary Leap

An Afghan proverb states, “No matter how high the mountain, there is always a road.” Trying to change the world is a feat many attempt, but find hard to attain. When Galpin initially risked her financial and physical stability to start her non-profit, there was doubt for obvious reasons. However, through determination and perseverance, she found the road.

Five years later, Galpin gets to celebrate her 40th birthday by seeing her dream come to full fruition. M2M has touched the lives of hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan. From helping Afghan women in prisons find their voices, to helping develop the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, Galpin describes in her memoir how she has broken the barrier of what it is women can and cannot do in a country like Afghanistan. Through using bikes, something that is so easily taken for granted in an affluent country like America, she has created a vehicle of social justice to empower women in conflict countries.

With the constant political changes currently occurring in Afghanistan and the increasing danger, Galpin realizes that her trips to Afghanistan may come to a temporary halt. However, her contribution to the world does not stop there.

Watch for her and M2M as they tackle different conflict regions and provide oppressed women with the strength to speak.

“One drop in a bucket will not fill the bucket, but if everyone contributes their drop, waves can be made,” Galpin said.

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Kim Constantinesco

Kim Constantinesco

As the founder and editor-in-chief of Purpose2Play.com, Kim Constantinesco dives under the surface hype to illuminate heroes in the sports world. Whether talking with the first man with cerebral palsy to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, or the first woman to mountain bike across Afghanistan, Kim has a keen interest in shining the spotlight on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She believes it's time media starts placing a higher value on the people and communities who are actively doing something to make the world a little better. Previously, she covered the Denver Broncos and the NFL for seven seasons. Her work has been featured on NFL.com, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, The New York Times, and USA Today. She resides in Denver, CO. When not working, she can be found deep in the Rocky Mountains throwing backflips on her snowboard. Follow Kim on Twitter: @KimCon14
Kim Constantinesco

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