Aishwarya Pissay, a champion motorcyclist, describes what it takes to ace the circuit

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Aishwarya Pissay, a champion motorcyclist, describes what it takes to ace the circuit
Aishwarya Pissay TVS Racing
  • Aishwarya Pissay has won 9 championships — both nationally and internationally — in a sport with very few men, let alone women, participating from India.
  • The latest feather in her cap was cinched when she came third at the Dubai International Baja, which was the first round of the FIM Baja Rally World Cup under the women's category in February 2021.
  • The brutal beginning of her rewarding career involved three major injuries and a couple of hundred minor ones.
Fearless Aishwarya Pissay navigates through life on a motorcycle through the harshest of terrains, at the fastest possible speeds, and has brought India much recognition though few would know it.

She has won 9 championships — both nationally and internationally — in a sport with very few men, let alone women, participating from India. In 2019, she became the first Indian athlete to win a World Cup at the FIM Baja Rally World Cup in the women's category and placed second in the juniors category in the overall championship (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme Baja World Cup). And the latest feather in her cap was cinched when she came third at the Dubai International Baja, which was the first round of the FIM Baja Rally World Cup under the women's category in February 2021.

What began as a hobby when she was 18⁠ — Pissay and a friend decided to pool in and buy a bike for casual rides on weekends⁠— turned out to be a relatively lucrative career. One she had not fathomed.

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However, the brutal beginning of her rewarding career involved three major injuries and a couple of hundred minor ones. Even as she spoke to Business Insider, Pissay was recovering from a wrist injury from the Jordan International Baja rally racing event held in March 2021.

There are two types of motorcycle racing — one is road racing, and the other is rallying. Road racing is an enclosed circuit race and whoever crosses the finish line first wins the race, whereas rallies are longer length courses conducted over rougher terrains like dunes, forests etc.

Pissay has mastered both. Edited excerpts of our conversation with Pissay follow.

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Aishwarya Pissay, a champion motorcyclist, describes what it takes to ace the circuit
Aishwarya Pissay TVS Racing


Is this something you always wanted to do or is it something that just happened?

I started riding motorcycles at 18, and I really didn't think that I would be racing motorcycles before that because it's a very unconventional sport. And, in our country, at least, I had not heard of any motorcycle racers as such at the time who were competing internationally as well.

I came to know about a few accomplished racers like Aravind KP and CS Santosh, who were racing internationally as well, only once I started getting into racing. But that was in rally races. With road racing, there was no such set benchmark that I could look at.
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What does it take to succeed in this career?

I think a not-giving-up attitude, determination, perseverance, discipline and a goal. It takes the same amount of work as any other sport. It needs a lot of time on the bike and a lot of training.

Not just the riding aspect of training, but a lot of physical training as well because our races are more endurance specific. So to sustain through all of that, I think physical fitness and mental fitness also play an essential role in my training.

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Tell us a little bit about the training that is required.

My training is broken down into gym, mental fitness training, navigation training, and riding.

In a week, I go to the gym pretty much every day and even if I'm not in the city, I make sure I still do my routine workout there as well. When I'm going to the gym, we're focusing on physical fitness, strength, agility and endurance. These are the aspects that we are looking at with training at the gym. I also have a nutritionist who takes care of my diet.

Then with my mental fitness coach, we work on a lot of meditation, breathing techniques, visualisation. We also play the PlayStation because that's the closest that we have to simulate a racing situation, and we also work on a lot of puzzles. We also discuss race strategies.
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On Fridays and over the weekends, I go to ride. We focus on doing motos, and I have a lap timer on my helmet, which technically tracks my lap timings. We take the reports from that and use them to assess how we could be better.

Before international races, like when I was in Dubai for the 2021 FIM Bajas World Cup, I spent one month training there before the race. After which, I participated in the race and finished third in that race.

Aishwarya Pissay, a champion motorcyclist, describes what it takes to ace the circuit
Aishwarya Pissay TVS Racing

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So how many times have you sustained an injury, or have we just lost count?

Well, I've had a lot of minor crashes and those I've lost count of, but with respect to really bad injuries, three. My latest injury was at the Baja World Cup in Jordan on March 19th. I had this accident during a race, and I broke both my wrists in this crash. I was operated on right after on the very same day, and I flew back to India. Now I'm working on my rehab. I've been working on wrist mobility and my fitness routines, the ones I can still work on, especially with my lower body and endurance.

Ever thought of embracing an alternate career after any of the accidents?

No, never, because I think even if I fall down the stairs, I might break a wrist or break a leg. I can still break something not doing what I do. I think in any sport, the risk of injury exists, and I don't think it has ever bothered me. I think I've always come out of these injuries stronger, and these injuries have just made me more motivated to go towards my goal and achieve them.

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Can you tell us about your next big race?

My next big race is round three of the Baja World Cup. It's happening in Spain in July, so that's what I'm preparing for.

Aishwarya Pissay, a champion motorcyclist, describes what it takes to ace the circuit
Aishwarya Pissay TVS Racing


Which one has been the toughest terrain that you have had to navigate?

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Jordan, the one I had the accident in. This is where one of the Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker's epic dune scenes was shot. It's mixed terrain — it has a lot of sand, a lot of hardpack, and many blind spots. It's a lot more challenging, especially with navigation. For navigation, we use a road book which is not a digital device. It is a paper roll that we put on the bike, and we are navigating ourselves reading pace notes that we have to recalibrate or scroll up and down based on the odometer we are at.

How does one make money if they choose to take this up as a profession?

When I started racing motorcycles, there were not many women or men who had made racing a career. So when I started out, it was more of a hobby, but when I started performing well and started winning championships — privately and with small sponsorships that were in-kind or bikes — did I get my big break.

TVS Racing has been in the racing scene for 39 years, and they are always on the hunt for good athletes. We started working together in 2017, and they started supporting me with the rally, nationally and internationally.
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Them coming on board meant they started taking care of my training, my racing, and it became a job that involved remuneration. Since then, the graph has just been curving upwards.

Any government support?

Not, not yet. I was nominated for the Arjun Award in 2020, but I believe nobody from motorsports got it. However, just recently, Kiren Rijiju, Union Sports Minister, added motorsports to the list of disciplines eligible for government jobs under the sports quota, which is really great. It's a good start, and I think it's just going to keep getting better from here.

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What about family? Were they always supportive?

In the beginning, my grandparents were a little wary about it because they hadn't heard of anybody doing anything like this. So they wanted me to pursue this as a hobby. But when results started showing, and especially when the association with TVS came along, things really changed, and they were also more accepting of the idea. My mother definitely has been very supportive in terms of what I do. She's never really stopped me from what I want to do, and I think that is one of the greatest support that you could get from family — not having to stop you from what you want to do.

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