Filmmaker Sarah Menzies grew up in Ferndale, Washington, about an hour from Seattle, and she desired to see the world beyond her town.
"I always was looking to see the world and get out there," says Menzies, who participated in an exchange program to Australia when she was 16. "Explore other cultures and countries."
Her camera has given her a chance to travel the world, and when she heard about the Women's National Cycling Team of Afghanistan and all of the challenges they encountered as they sought to train and compete, she was fascinated. Being a storyteller, Menzies wanted to share the adventures, challenges, and ambitious goals of these Afghani women.
"Hearing about these women [pursuing cycling] in Kabul at the time, I was immediately drawn to it. As an athlete myself, I just know the confidence that participating in sport can instill, and the freedom and the independence, the positive effects of competition," she says. "All of this stuff is what shaped me."
But Menzies quickly realized the story needed to be a feature-length film. In order to raise the funds, she created a Kickstarter campaign. Nearly 600 backers pledged over $50,000. She remembers first meeting Ali Zada in May 2013, when she was just learning how to ride. In fact, one of her arms was bandaged, and they worried that she would have trouble changing gears.
Menzies says one of her takeaways from all of her filming was that the Afghan cyclists were just like her.
"They weren't that different from me and my friends growing up," she says. "There was a lot of goofing around. Unfortunately, we couldn't share any of that footage because of their Muslim traditions. They didn't want people seeing them singing or dancing."
Read Rukhsar Habibzai story where she talks about what it was like starting the first women's cycling team in Afghanistan and the struggles they are still going through to be accepted.
"That's a pretty special memory. We all were kind of joking, 'This girl is gonna run off the road,' or, 'Why aren't people keeping an eye on Masomah [Ali Zada] cause she'd be further back.' But even a year later, it was night and day. She was already leading the pack."
Now available to stream at https://www.afghancyclesfilm.com/stream