In Cambodia, even today, the gender stereotype keeps many women from pursuing their dreams and passion. Certain fields, including sport, are considered off-limits to women. Yet, two Cambodian sisters are overcoming the social barrier to achieve their goal of becoming the fastest women on two wheels in the region. There are many hurdles on their journey, but both refuse to veer from breaking tradition.
Som Kanika talks to the ‘Cycling Sisters’
THE alarm clock jolts Heng Sivgech out of bed at 5am. She whips up breakfast for her family before diving headlong into her Spandex and hitting the road for training. She is not alone in her quest. Alongside her is Heng Sivlang, her younger sister and another budding champion cyclist.
At the age of 40, Sivgech is a mother of five while sister Sivlang , 39, is also a mother of four. Yet, the two sisters are already nationally known as the fastest female cyclists in Cambodia since setting a record in their first race in 2011 – and none of the other pretenders to the cycling throne have come close to breaking their prestigious records yet.
Born gifted in sports, Sivlang’s flirtation in various fields won her recognition from an early age. Then Sivlang was introduced to cycling for the very first time by her husband as a hobby. But ever since she got in the saddle, Sivlang realised her destiny in cycling.
“I’ve always known that I love sport but little did I realise that I could find my unique talent in cycling until I participated in my first race in the women’s category at Phnom Basset in 2011 — and I was the fastest among all the champion cyclists,” said Sivlang at the Flying Bike 2, a bike shop founded by her husband and part-owned with his brother.
While most people take cycling to de-stress, Sivgech took cycling beyond mere hobby to a passion she wants to master.
“Cycling has always been my favorite thing to do. It helped me to discover not only my dream but also to become a professional cyclist. It has made me into who I am today.”
Sivlang and Sivgech have no hesitation showing their powerful ambitions on two wheels, by winning countless races in international bike racing around Southeast Asia.
Both are determined to reach global recognition.
“Sivgech and I generally choose to race in every SEA Games. In order to be well prepared for the competition, we normally conduct extensive training twice a day. We usually ride from 6 to 8 hours per session just to make sure we keep up with the speed and technique and another 8-10 hours in the evening.”
Sivlang made her mark when she finished sixth in the Criterium race at the KL SEA Games in Malaysia, propelling to the forefront of the fastest women cyclists in the region.
Despite cycling being her source of pride, road racing remains a concern for Sivlang’s family with regard to the risk of accidents during training.
Sivlang acknowledges her mother’s worry with her ‘risky sport’. Moreover, the worry of a secure financial future doesn’t sit too well with her elders.
Hence admittedly, she and her sister have barriers to break. “Fortunately both of us have very supportive husbands who are also passionate in the field of bike racing so they have always stood by us.”
Already dominating the sphere as the fastest women cyclists in the country, road racing has taken them places like to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.
They are also on a mission to spread word of the great opportunity in travel and self-discovery through cycling.
“I want to encourage all the women out there who, like us, have found their dream and passion in this sport, to break through all the hindrances no matter how tough they are because when you do what you love, you will find the worth of your life,” said Sivlang.
“Cycling allows me to travel to many interesting places and through travelling and cycling, both of us have made many friends and connections around the world.”
Their dedication in this sport has not only won them social recognition, achievement and skills but their journey as bike racers has transformed them into opened-minded people.
“When people ask how I love cycling that much, the idea might come from the fact that it provides us with a wide array of benefits which include health and fitness and brain stimulation. I think more people should take part in cycling as it does not only give you more joy but also good health too,” said Sivgech.
As a bike racer, Sivlang observes that cycling has made her a new person through the emancipation from riding a bike in what was a men’s sport a long time ago.
“When cycling you will see a different view instead of sightseeing from a car . On a bicycle, the world looks so much different and living is like riding a bike,” Sivlang says.
“It gives you a goal to reach and you have to keep moving on.”
A timely rejoinder on how Albert Einstein said it, when asked to explain his Theory of Relativity: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you cannot stop.