Becoming the First African Woman to finish the Dakar Rally

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Rising desert star Kirsten Landman in the Sahara. Photo: Merzouga Rally
ROAD TO BECOMING THE FIRST AFRICAN WOMAN TO FINISH THE DAKAR RALLY

Kirsten Landman has officially started the qualifying process for the 2020 Dakar Rally. With a dream to become the first African woman to finish the iconic event, Landman has flown to Morocco to race the Merzouga Rally. The event takes place from 1-5 April, and all Landman needs to do is finish if she wants to secure a ticket to the Dakar next year.

The 27-year old has conquered some of the world’s toughest and most technical terrain. Having ticked off most events on her hard enduro bucket list, she set her sights on the most daring event of them all.

It was South African Dakar legend Joey Evans who ignited Landman’s desert dream. In an incredibly moving story, Evans recovered from paralysis to complete the Dakar in 2017. Landman recalls him getting back from the event and saying, “Kirst – you’ve got to try this!”
 
It took her a year before she finally began talking about her Dakar ambitions. After a terrible accident in Botswana five years ago, the first step she had to take was face her fear of speed. She started by signing up for the National Cross Country series, and in 2018 went back to Botswana to complete the very event where her accident took place.
 
Landman, with the support of Ryobi Africa, is now on the cusp of putting her Dakar dream into motion. We managed to catch up with the star before she set off into the Saharan desert on her KTM 450 Rally Replica.
Kirsten Landman at the start of the Merzouga Rally. Photo: Merzouga Rally
When did you first start dreaming about the Dakar Rally and why?
 
Singing up for the Dakar was not a last-minute decision – everything that has happened since I first swung my leg over a motorcycle at the age of 8 brought me to this point.
 
If you’d asked me about doing the Dakar after my accident five years ago, I would have told you that there’s not a chance! I was so put off by any event that involved high speed. After doing pretty much every hard enduro I’d set out to do, people started asking me – ‘so what’s next’? 
 
The Dakar began to play on my mind. I’d been a massive fan for years, but actually doing it is a whole different story. Three years ago, Joey Evans got back from the Dakar and said to me, “Kirst, you have to try this!” I started seriously considering it, and after a whole year opened up to my parents about what I was thinking.
 
How did you start preparing for a dream as demanding as this?
 
I had to get over my fear of speed first, so in 2018 I entered the National Cross Country series. After a lot of convincing, I also decided to go back to Botswana where my accident happened. Finishing that race was a massive turning point for me!
 
I realized that I’d reached a level of maturity as a rider, and it felt like all the challenges I’d faced in my career had prepared me for the Dakar. The dream scared the living daylight out of me – I know that it’s not an easy race, and I’m aware how quickly things can go wrong. But I decided to give it shot, and I’m not about to look back.
Landman finds her feet in the unrelenting dunes of the Sahara. Photo: Merzouga Rally
You’ve accomplished some extremely challenging events in your career, what makes this one the toughest?
 
I’m busy packing for the Merzouga Rally right now, and I’m petrified! There’s been so much preparation leading up to this point, and I’m about to enter virgin territory. The road to overcoming my fear of speed has been a tough one to walk, and now I have to begin the process of acquiring a completely new set of skills. I’ve never done a rally, I’ve never raced a rally bike, and I’ve never had to use navigation like this during an event. There’s also the ever-looming first-time experience of riding in the dunes!
 
How are you coping with the pressure to qualify for the Dakar?
 
To get to the Dakar, I need to get a finisher’s medal at this race. The pressure mostly comes from me, but I’ve made my goal very simple – get to Morocco and don’t worry about anybody else, just finish. If I’m the last one across the finish line, then that’s okay! Preparation also helps me cope. I got some solid training in with Joey Evans before this – so I feel like I’ve done everything I possibly could.

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