Gianna Velarde: A name to remember in motorsports
The Peruvian motorcyclist discovered her love for the sport in the midst of her fight against cancer as a teenager.
On the morning of Jan. 10, 2019, Gianna Velarde began on the third leg of the Dakar Rally. The Dakar, as it’s known to those familiar with rally raids, is an off-road, multi-stage race taking place over many days. It is not so much a test of speed, but endurance for the participants and their automobiles of choice - car, truck, bike, quad, or UTV.
The 2019 version of the Dakar was special to Velarde for many reasons. For one, it was the first Dakar to take place only in one country, her home of Peru. But more importantly, it was culmination of a recovery and body of work that’s spanned much of her 24-year old life.
At the age of 15, Velarde was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma. She was an active teenager, but struggled with depression and confidence. The cancer only amplified the negative thoughts.
“I always said: I’m going to die at 15,” Velarde told Codigo Nuevo, “and at 15 I got cancer.”
But sometimes the darkest of times breed the greatest successes. During her second round of chemotherapy, her father began taking her for rides on his motorcycle because he couldn’t take her to the hospital for treatment. It was during these rides that Velarde began to rediscover parts of herself lost in the battle with cancer.
“One of the things destroyed the most by cancer is self-esteem,” she told Cosas.
From that day forward, Velarde made riding an integral part of her life, developing her skills while attending another 14 chemotherapies and 32 radiotherapies to treat her cancer.
Five years after being declared cancer-free, Velarde competed in her motorbike first race. Here she encountered her next obstacle: being one of the very few women in a sea of male motorbike competitors. But just as she did with the challenge of cancer, she rose above the doubt to excel.
By competing in the Dakar 2019, Velarde looked to silence her critics once and for all competing alongside the best riders in the world. But she did not complete the Dakar 2019. Not long after passing the hundredth kilometer of the race during its third stage, Velarde fell while traversing sand dunes. The moment of her fall was captured by TV cameras, as was her tearful response realizing her bike was broken and she was disqualified.
In failure, Velarde finds yet another obstacle to overcome. But if her past exploits say anything, it’s that she’ll be back and better than ever, inspiring whomever near or far come across her amazing story.