Tanyaradzwa ‘Tanya’ Muzinda is not your average teenager. At 15, she is already one of Zimbabwe’s Motocross champions.
Held on off-road circuits, Motocross is a form of motorbike racing that is dangerous, expensive and requires a lot of training.
But these challenges have not stopped Tanya from competing in local and international tournaments.
Born in Harare, Zimbabwe’s most populous city, she says she started riding when she was only five years old, inspired by her father, a former biker.
“My dad used to ride motorbikes in the past so I got the motivation for Motocross from him,” she told CNN.
It is perhaps an unusual sport for a five year old to take up, given the potential risk of serious injury, something that Muzinda has not escaped.
In 2017, she fell off a 100 feet long jump, hurting her hip, while practicing for a race.
“I was not able to walk properly for a few months. It also affected my back, so I have back problems that I have to work on,” she said.
First female rider to win
But recurring back pain has not stopped Muzinda in her tracks. She came in third place at the 2017 HL Racing British Master Kids Championships at the Motoland track in England, which she says is still her most memorable race.
“It was my first race overseas and I managed to finish in third place. I also left a record for being the first female rider to win a round since its inception,” Muzinda said.
She is also an honorary ambassador of the European Union to Zimbabwe for Youth, Gender, Sports and Development.
In 2018, Muzinda was named Junior Sportswoman of the year in South Africa by the Africa Union Sports Council Region Five Annual Sports Awards.
“It is always so overwhelming when I win any award or when I find out that I am being recognized at my age. It is something that I will forever be grateful for,” she said.
A sport for the wealthy
Her father, Tawanda Muzinda, says his daughter faces substantial challenges in her chosen field because it is an expensive sport.
Motorbikes and gear range from $900 to $5000. Muzinda often misses championships because of a lack of funds to travel outside the country to participate, he said.
“As you know Motocross is quite an expensive sport so at times we are not able to secure funds to buy bikes and fail to travel for races,” he told CNN.
The challenges motivate her to work harder, so she can overcome them, says Muzinda.
“Motocross is done by wealthy people. So for me, coming from Africa, most people see that as impossible and makes it easier for me to be made fun of.
“I have had to overcome this challenge by working hard,” Muzinda said.
Muzinda says another person who inspires her is Uganda’s ‘Chess Queen’ Phiona Mutesi, who discovered a natural talent for chess at the age of 10 and became one of Uganda’s top players. Mutesi’s life story was made into a Hollywood film starring Lupita N’yongo in 2016.
The parallels between them, Muzinda says, are many. Like Mutesi, she too is from a background and excelling in a male-dominated field.
“I can compare myself and relate to Mutesi, the Queen of Katwe when she had international chess tournaments. She was made fun of because of her background, but that didn’t stop her from doing what she loved,” she said.
Muzinda admits that she has to work extra hard and build friendships with some of the boys she competes with to excel, crediting her mentor Stefy Bau for her helping in guiding her.
Giving back to her community
Despite the financial difficulties she faces, it has not stopped Muzinda from giving back to people in her community.
In August, she paid tuition for 45 students to attend school in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, and hopes to pay for at least 500 more students by the end of 2020.
“There have been many times I didn’t race for months because of financial difficulties. I thought of the children who also don’t have a chance to go to school because of money and decided to do something about it,” she said.
Muzinda uses donations and her Motocross prize money to support children from poorer families, especially girls who are often kept home from school.
“Most of the children I paid for are girls because when parents don’t have enough money to send their kids to school, they’d prefer to send the boy child,” she said.
Muzinda also helps fundraise for an orphanage and organizes Christmas parties for the children living there.
Her commitment to giving back comes from her father who always encouraged her to help others.
“I always encourage her through the word of God that if she has a little she should share with those who are in need,” her father said.
As for the future, Muzinda says she will continue to combine her two passions; riding and helping people.
“I am going to stay focused on riding till I decide what to do, I have all the time in the world,” she said.