Whether it's on two or four wheels, motorsports are often viewed as a man's world, but Madison West is proof that females can also compete in one of the world's fastest and dangerous sports.
The 17-year-old began riding as a determined four-year-old, and now almost 13 years later, and despite plenty of knocks, near misses and setbacks, she is still flying the female flag, competing all over California in desert racing and showing that "girls can be just as tough as boys."
But West has another side, a softer side. The incoming junior at THS is also an accomplished ballerina.
"Since I could remember I dreamed about being a ballerina, and when I did take a few classes when I was younger, I became hooked,” she said. “I don't know why I love ballet so much; in reality, you are almost always in some sort of pain or stress — maybe it's just the self-discipline.”
A third generation motorcyclist, West was born in Marina Del Rey and moved to Tehachapi with her family when she was 11, which provided the perfect gateway to weekend motorcycle rides in the nearby Mojave Desert, sandwiched between recitals and practiced at Tehachapi Dance Theater.
By the age of 15, West was already an accomplished motorcycle rider, so it’s only natural that she would fall in love with racing instead of boys.
"I guess you can say riding is in my blood,” she said.
Nevertheless, from the onset of her racing career, West knew that being a female in a male dominated sport wasn’t going to be easy. But she is determined.
I like to show that gender isn't a handicap in racing,” she said. “And I think it's that challenge that keeps me going.”
Currently West is a regular on the southern California District 37 series circuit, an storied desert-racing series that began in the 1920s.
Desert races typically consist of two 40-mile loops over some of the most hostile terrain on the planet, and just finishing a race requires skill, dexterity, nerve and fierce resolve.
"Often, there is no trail," West said. "You just follow ribbon and hope you don’t get off the course and get lost.”
But getting lost is just one of the hurdles that West faces while racing.
"Being a girl has its disadvantages," she said. "Sometimes, the weight of the bike is too much to handle and you need help picking it up if it falls over."
Other times, West said she must contend with ego s of some of the male riders, who aren’t shy about showing how they feel about competing against their female counterparts.
"They will say that girls need to get off the course and sometimes they take you out (make you crash) on purpose," she said. "But overall, the struggles make it all worth wild. I want to earn my respect and to be looked at as a good rider, no matter the gender."
So, with so much adversity, why be involved in a sport where the odds seem to be stacked against you?
It's all about the rush. And while ballet and racing don't really compare, West said both give her a freedom that nothing else has ever given her.
I can tell you that the adrenaline rushes in both are extremely high, because not only are you preforming for an audience of on-lookers or sponsors, but you are performing for yourself,” she said. “Both are high-intensity and take an extreme amount of endurance and concentration.”
But racing has one more element. One that cannot be controlled — cost.
It is extremely expensive, and West’s dreams of competing at a higher level are in danger, if she cannot find sponsors to help offset the expense of racing, which can sometimes reach nearly a thousand dollars a weekend.
My father makes many sacrifices, working seven days a week and over 10 hours a day, just to pay for my racing,” she said. “A lot of things he wants to do are put on hold because of all the extra money that is going towards my racing.”
That’s why West is on a mission to attract additional sponsors, setting up a donation website at gofundme.com/c05h04, along with selling off some of her own personal family heirlooms to support her dream.
So far she has raised nearly $1,400 from local businesses, friends and family. But like all racing, sponsors are key, but are mostly interested in top riders, who will parade the names and logos of their company in front of the cameras and sports writers the congregate around the winner’s circle after a race.
For West, however, who rides a 12-year old KTM 200, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up with the newer bikes. But she hasn’t given up, and said despite the ever growing financial concerns involved in keeping her in competitive, she plans on traveling to more series and events outside of southern California this coming year, which will allow her to compete against bigger classes and chase after more championships.
"My ultimate dream is to be one of the best female off-road competitors out there,” she said.