If you go

What: Mountain2Mountain cycling gear drive

When: Feb. 15-March 15

Where: Boulder Cycle Sport locations

More info: mountain2mountain.org

W hen Shannon Galpin's now 8-year-old daughter Devon was born, Galpin said she wanted her daughter to grow up in a world free of gender violence -- what mother wouldn't?

A victim of sexual violence herself, Galpin said she was determined to stop talking about changing the world, and start acting. In November 2006, she quit her job and founded Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit aimed at helping women and girls in conflict zones.

Galpin, who lives in Breckenridge, has visited Afghanistan more than a dozen times.

On a recent visit, she said she met with members of the Afghanistan men's national cycling team, and was stunned to see how little support they had -- old, tired gear and just one sponsor. As riding bikes is socially unacceptable for women in Afghanistan, Galpin said, the women's team would meet in secret. The women would constantly change the time and location of the team's rides, for fear they would be discovered.

Back in the states, Galpin organized a gear drive for the teams, hoping that Colorado cyclists would donate used bikes, helmets, seats, shoes and more to give the Afghanistan national teams a chance at competing on the world stage -- and maybe even someday at the Olympics.


The gear drive begins Friday at Boulder Cycle Sport in town, along with various locations throughout Colorado.

A mountain biker herself, Galpin said she didn't intend for bicycles to play such an important role in her effort. But soon, she found herself wanting to help women in Afghanistan to become empowered and help change social norms by using bikes as a medium for change.

Galpin began riding her mountain bike in Afghanistan, ignoring social constructs and hoping to show women in Afghanistan what they could achieve.

"I recognized that as a foreign woman in Afghanistan, I could push on boundaries that Afghan women maybe safely couldn't yet," Galpin said.

Keyword "yet," she added.

Galpin said she hates the idea that victims of violence are considered helpless, and must be given aid without being taught how to help themselves.

""I decided to use the bike as a vehicle to create strength between women that had survived great violence," said Galpin, "and also (help) camaraderie between women (in Afghanistan). How do we build an army? How do we build the strength in women so that they can fight for themselves?"

Galpin learned that only 60 women in the entire country of Afghanistan ride bikes, 12 of who are on the secret Afghanistan national team.

She said that with the right gear and support, it's possible for those 12 women to compete in the Olympics and topple the cycling stigma in their home country.

"If they had better gear, if they had their own bikes, if they had more support to race in Pakistan and India, then in theory they could go to the Olympics and represent their country, which blows my mind," she said.

Local cyclist and University of Colorado-Boulder sophomore Jessica Bobeck said she heard about the cause and decided to share it with her teammates on the CU-Boulder cycling team.

Bobeck said she knows many cyclists who have closets full of extra gear, so she decided to help promote the drive to the team.

Bobeck said she couldn't imagine not being able to ride a bike, which was a normal part of her childhood, she said.

She plans to donate her first racing bike, a Cannondale CAAD8, she said.

"My first thought was 'wow,'" Bobeck said when she heard about the national teams' lack of support. "These Afghanis -- they're badass. They don't have $5,000 bikes. They ride on these dirt roads, through Taliban territory and next to people in armored cars and machine guns. That's devotion."

Lakewood cyclist Kathryn Winn, who competes for Boulder-based Naked Women's Cycling, said she hopes cycling can be life changing for women and men in Afghanistan.

Naked Women's Cycling also aims to promote women's cycling and self-confidence, so the cause was near to the team's mission, Winn added.

 "We hear so much about the war and violence occurring in Afghanistan that it's very easy to forget that many of the people who live there have the same interests, hopes and dreams that we have," she said. "Yet among all that adversity and danger, here is a group of women who are training and racing their bikes simply because it's something that they love to do. Their courage is inspiring."

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.