Catching Up with…Women’s East Nationals Co-Organizer, Leah Clarke

By Jeff McConkey

Leah Clarke (front row centre) returns as co-organizer of the Women's East Nationals this year. Jeff caught up with her to see how things are going. - Bigwave photo

Leah Clarke (front row second from left) returns as co-organizer of the Women’s East Nationals this year. Jeff caught up with her to see how things are going. – Bigwave photo

With the Women’s East Nationals about to start next Saturday at Gopher Dunes, we wanted to catch up with co-organizer, Leah Clarke, to see what she’s been up to leading to this 3-round series. With such a busy schedule, it’s amazing she has time to do such a great job as returning co-organizer of the series. Jeff caught up with her in this interview:

Direct Motocross: Hi Leah, How’s it going?

Leah Clarke: Good so far! Just trying to finalize some details about the Canadian Women’s East Nationals and getting ready to hopefully race next weekend.

For the people out there that don’t know you, can you tell us where you are from and what you do?

I’m from a small town outside Ottawa, ON called Richmond, which is also home to Sand Del Lee Motocross Park.  I ride a Yamaha 250F. I just finished my third year of university at uOttawa in the Biomedical science program and was fortunate enough to get a summer internship at Agriculture Canada. I have been involved with organizing the Eastern Canadian Women’s Nationals with Sylvain Brodeur for the past 2 years.
How did you get started in motocross?

Every year as a kid my dad would take my brother and me to the Pro National at Sand Del Lee. He used to race pro “back in the day” and never lost the desire to race. When I was 9 my parents gave my brother and me a Honda trail bike for Christmas. Soon after that, my brother started racing a KTM 50. A couple of years later, I convinced my parents that I needed to get a CRF 150r to ride at Sand Del Lee and I’ve been hooked ever since!

You are not only a Lady racer, but you are also a co-organizer of the Women’s East National Series. What do your duties with the Nationals entail?

In the off-season, I help recruit sponsors for product and the series purse with Sylvain. Denaye Arnett, Camille Bunko, and the other girls out West help out a lot with gathering sponsors for us in the East and we are really grateful for their help for the past two years. This year, I reached out to Jocelyn Facciotti and Heidi Cooke for their insight, and they’ve also helped us out with advice and sponsors.
As race season approaches, I try to prompt some interviews with the girls and get their racer profiles on the site with the help of Sierra Roth. Sylvain and I will also be preparing a press release with sponsors and sorting out details like podium arrangements and picking up product before we head out to Gopher Dunes.
On race day, I help out with registration and hold a Ladies riders meeting after the amateur riders meeting. Then I set up the Ladies podium with Sylvain and prepare the draw table we have for all the girls at the end of the day. During the race I’m either blue flagging and running around with a radio, or riding in it myself!

We almost lost the series completely a few years back, and then some great people, along with you, stepped up and took over. What do these young Lady Racers need to do to ensure that the series keeps growing in the future?

I think that as more girls take interest in racing and wanting to race seriously, the series will continue to thrive and grow. As long as there are girls that are highly motivated to race and improve the series, the series will keep growing in the future. There really needs to be more young girls introduced to racing. Once more women and girls get into racing, women’s motocross will become more popular and one day there might be less of a gender gap between men and women’s motocross.

Gender-specific marketing is also a big factor as to why more young girls are not into motocross. Hopefully in the future parents will have their children play with more gender-neutral toys, and as a result we could see more female motocross racers and NASCAR drivers.
To make sure that the series continues to grow in the future, girls and sponsors should work together to strive for gender equity. Sponsors and riders actually have a lot to gain by committing themselves to gender equity in motocross:
•    Attracting more girls to motocross increases revenue and broadens the market segment to which the sport appeals.
•    Representing the population in full and tapping resources of every member will result in higher revenue for the sponsor.
•    Changing the image of women in sport attracts public interest and investment by sponsors. In turn, more members are attracted to the sponsor.
•    Taking the lead in promoting girls and women brings prestige and support to the sponsor.
•    Providing opportunities for mothers and daughters to get involved can enhance both the sport and family relationships.
•    A physical sport like motocross can provide an opportunity for girls to understand and respect their bodies, which in turn could help promote a healthy lifestyle.

The series went coast to coast a few years back. Do you think that would be a possibility again one day, or do you feel it is better to have an East and West?

Until women’s motocross grows to a level that is close to the men’s, in my opinion, I feel it’s better that we have an East and West Series. Very few ladies have a factory ride in Canada and it would be too much for most girls to travel across the country as a privateer.  Since most girls wouldn’t be able to travel across the country anyways, I don’t think it would really be an accurate representation of skill level. For example, if there was a really fast girl who could win the championship but couldn’t make it to every round across Canada, then the point of having a national championship is moot. For now we have the East-West Shootout at Walton. Last year it was great to see some girls from out West battling the Eastern girls.

What is the most rewarding part about being in the group that is keeping Ladies racing at the national level alive?

The most rewarding part by far was seeing the smiles on the girls’ faces as they come off the track. Also, getting to know other riders and their stories is pretty awesome too.

It's all about the smiles for Leah and she's picking Eve Brodeur as her favourite to take home the title in 2015. - Bigwave photo

It’s all about the smiles for Leah and she’s picking Eve Brodeur as her favourite to take home the title in 2015. – Bigwave photo

Will we see you on the gate for any of the rounds?

I’m planning on riding the Sand Del Lee round because it’s my home track and I know it like the back of my hand. For Gopher and Ulverton, I will probably be blue-flagging!

How do you manage holding down a job, being a full time student, a racer, and a series organizer?

Time management and organization are a huge part of succeeding in school; and also spill over into racing, organizing the series, and volunteer work that I do! My mom also helps organize my life while I’m studying and I couldn’t do it without her. She’s behind me and supports me in whatever I do. It means a lot to have someone in your corner in all aspects of life.

You’ve been around the sport a long time. What is your favourite part?

My favourite part? That’s a tough question for sure and I think it changes every time someone asks. It could be coming off the track from a race knowing that I’ve done the best I could. Or the moto family I’ve made over the years. It could be the moto family camped beside you sharing snacks (aka Allie Argue‘s mom ~ Angie). But it’s definitely the fact that anyone at the track would basically give the shirt off their back to help someone who needs a hand, whether it is changing a tire or to hold your bike in staging. The comradeship in motocross is like no other sport.

Do you have any predictions for the East? Who are your top 5?

Off the top of my head, I think that the top five will be Eve Brodeur, Allie Argue, Cassandra Belanger, Kim Normandin, and Breanna Rose.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule. You must have a lot of people behind you. Who would you like to thank?

I’d like to thank my mom and dad, my brother for spotting me (sometimes), Jim Kolman at Wheelsport, and Thomas Rendall for keeping my Oakley goggles on point.