Aishwarya Pissay: Racing Ahead
Meet the first Indian to win the world title in motor sports. In an exclusive interview, Aishwarya Pissay talks about racing, family support, stereotyping and beyond.
By Monali Bordoloi • 14 min read
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” - Maya Angelou, an American poet, singer and civil rights activist
Are you one of those parents who want their children to stick to a conventional 9-to-5 job? Do you feel agitated if your teen dares to be different and prefers things which are not conventionally designed for her? If your answer is 'yes', then don’t you think you should see the world from their perspective?
Read the motivating journey of Aishwarya Pissay, one of the top female racing champions in the country at present and how she overcame negativity to reach the top. We are sure her journey to overcome a conservative outlook and how she carved a name for herself on her own, would be an inspiration for scores of girls who aspire to do things out of the box. It could be your daughter some day!
A role model for many female bikers across India, ParentCircle quizzes the 24-year-old Aishwarya, about racing, support from family, injuries and beyond.
Who is Aishwarya Pissay?
Aishwarya Pissay is an Indian off-road racer from Bangalore who tasted fame quite early in her career. She is also the first ever female bike racer to win national titles in both track and off road events. But that’s not the end of her story, this tenacious girl came back to win a race in which she crashed and injured herself the previous year. Now, she is the first Indian to win the FIM Bajas World Championship. What makes her journey more compelling is the fact that she was discouraged from pursuing bike riding as it was considered a dangerous sport and not suitable for girls from respectable families! Instead she was asked to focus on her studies. But Aishwarya was not someone who could be bogged down so easily. Hear it from herself in this exclusive interview!
It is not common for women to enter motor sports. What is it about the sport that appeal to you?
More than anything else, riding gives me a sense of freedom! Initially, it was all about the adrenaline rush and after that a sense of power kicks in. I would like to tell every young girl and woman out there – if you love riding, give racing a try! But of course, under the right guidance and with all the necessary precautions. There is a saying in racing that once you wear the helmet, it does not matter if you are man or a woman – sports does not discriminate based on gender.
Tell us about your journey into professional motor sports?
My journey into professional motor sports was a gradual one. At first, biking was just a hobby. But then I tasted success early on when I participated in various rallies. That motivated me. The defining moment was when I was signed up by TVS motors in 2017. Prior to that I took racing quite casually, like a pastime. But, once I started working with professionals from TVS, who have been in the racing business for 37 long years – I started taking things more seriously and pursued the sport with dedication and determination. Associating with TVS was my turning point.
Initially, your family was not supportive of your career choice. How important is a family's role in deciding one's career?
Yes, my family had their share of reservations and concerns. Racing or motor sports is an unconventional sport. And, most traditional families would have some reservations about a girl taking it up as a profession. However, I was determined that I could overcome any challenges and cross any hurdles, and that’s exactly what I did. To answer your question, yes, support from loved ones is important. But also, don’t stop if you are not getting that support. Eventually, they will come around and understand. I would like to stress upon the fact that if you are passionate about what you do, stick to it. Success will come your way. Don't wait for everyone's approval before you embark on your dream. Over the years, my family has turned around and now my mother, brother and the friends I made over the years in the circuit have been my biggest support system. Now, I celebrate my wins, big or small, with my family and my mentor Jody.
Did you find it difficult to break gender stereotypes?
When I started out, it was difficult to change people's mindset about women and racing. In fact it is still difficult I would say. But a lot depends on you. If you take your career seriously or are passionate about a certain field, then slowly people around you will notice and respect that. I started road racing at a time when there were hardly any women doing so. However, as you cross milestones and start getting recognised, along the way, you can shatter many gender stereotypes.
How did society react to you venturing into motor sports?
Initially, I faced many negative comments from people around me. Everyone assumed that I was doing it as a hobby. My father was upset as I was not too much into academics and went biking all around. My family wanted to see me in a regular 9-5 job, but it was not to be. They were also concerned about my safety, as racing could lead to accidents and scarring. However, things changed when I started competing in circuits. After that, I never faced any discouraging comments. Throughout my career, I never felt that I am at some disadvantage because of my gender.
You are a perfect example of life beyond academics. What would be your advice to students?
Academics is important, there is no two ways about it. We are always in a better position in life if we hold a degree. However, do not look at academics and marks, like it is life. And more importantly, don’t judge anyone for the marks they get in exams. Figure out your strong points, your interests, your talents and try to build a career around it.
I didn’t do well in my Class 12 board exams and I was humiliated for that. Everyone assumed and chided that I won’t make it big in life. But I never let those things deter me. I found my calling in motor sports and gave it my best shot. However, I am keen to finish my education, so I have enrolled again to study further.
What’s your message to parents whose daughters have out-of-the-box aspirations?
It is always difficult to pursue unconventional career, so if your daughter has out-of-the-box aspirations, be prepared to back her decisions, no matter what society think of it. Parents need to keep an open mind. If your daughter is willing to take up motor sports or for that matter any other unconventional sports, let her give it a shot. Encourage her, support her when she needs it.
Too much importance on academics and too little on sports by parents should be discouraged. Luckily, cricket and badminton is getting its prominence, but I would like to believe that things are changing and other sports are also slowly but steadily getting its due. Parents need to take a step back and think what their children would like to do, not what are their expectations from the child.
You have encountered some major injuries in the circuit but you always get back into the game. How do you manage to do that?
When you are in motor sports, accidents are bound to happen. But we are fully prepared for that. While racing, we wear protective gear and take all the necessary precautions. Also, emergency medical care and ambulances are always on standby during races. But accidents don’t come planned.
So far, I have had two major accidents. One time I broke my collarbone and I had to take a week off to recuperate. But soon I was back on the racing court. The other time, took two months to recover from an injury to my pancreas.
When you have the right team, good medical care, supporters – it becomes easier to recover well and sooner. Of course, a lot depends on your will power too.
However, I don’t consider motor sports as a risky sport just because of the injuries that racers might have. Accidents can happen in any sports. In fact, one can get hurt even when you are walking on the footpath or inside your home. So, fear of injuries should not deter anyone to take up motor sports.
Being in a high-intensity sport, is it important to take care of your mental health? How do you manage to do that?
It is very important to take care of your mental health, especially in a sport like motor racing. As a racer, our cognitive abilities should be at its best at all times, during the race and beyond.
I give my mental coaching as much importance as my physical coaching. When I am in Bangalore, I visit Inventure Academy for workouts and for my mental conditioning. Thrice a week, I have a session with my mentor where we talk about the game and the situations we might encounter on a track.
I also meditate regularly to keep my mind calm.
How can we encourage more women to take up motor sports?
Things are definitely changing for the better. Many women bikers are now taking to motor sports. Now, there are even all-women biking events, which was unheard of a few years back. Girls who are interested in pursuing racing, should look out for some racing events to participate in. There are a few racing events specially organised for women. Participate in such events and if you are good at it, you will be noticed soon. In February this year, there was a women-only racing event by TVS. It attracted a huge number of female bikers from all over India. Such events are a step in the right direction when it comes to encouraging young talents.
How rewarding is racing as a career?
Racing is a fairly-rewarding sport if you do well in circuits. However, don’t join it just for monetary benefits. There are a lot of struggles initially to face, till you make your mark.
Hall of fame:
2019: Aishwarya is the first Indian woman to win 6 National titles in Road Racing and Rally Championship combined.
- 2019: She is awarded the Karnataka Women Achievers Award for excellence in sports/fitness.
- 2019: She is the first Indian to claim the FIM Baja World Cup in the women’s category.
- 2019: She got the 5th position in the Dakshin Dare and 2nd place in the Asia Road Racing cup.
- 2018: Aishwarya is the first Indian woman to compete in the Bajaj Aragon World Rally in Spain.
- 2018: She won the Indian National Rally championship.
- 2018: She finished 4th in the Raid De Himalaya off roading races and she was the only female rider to participate in the “Xtreme” race category.
- 2017: She won the Outstanding Women in Motorsports Award by FMSCI for the 2nd consecutive year.
- 2017: Aishwarya also won the Sports Women of the Year Award by Autotruck Magazine.
- 2017: Aishwarya won the CEAT Sprint Rally and graduated from the California Superbike School in the same year.
- 2017: She won the Indian National Rally Championship and the Indian National Road Racing Championship.
- 2016: Aishwarya was awarded the TiE Young Achiever of the Year award.
- 2016: She won the Outstanding Women in Motorsports Award by FMSCI.
- 2016: Aishwarya successfully passed from the Apex Racing Academy and won the Honda One Make Championship.
We women are each others biggest inspiration. With Aishwarya's journey to stardom, we want you to pause for a minute and introspect. Do you support your children if their choices are unconventional? If your answer is no, then think how you can support them now. Or do you want to pursue any unfulfilled dreams of your childhood? If yes, then sort out what's stopping you. Don't forget to share your experiences with us. We would love to hear from you and about your journey of how you overcome difficulty to achieve something in life.
Also read: 5 Women And Their Inspiring Stories
About the author:
Written by Monali Bordoloi on 19 February 2020.
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