Motocross, the sport featuring people riding souped-up dirt bikes around a muddy track and flinging themselves off of jumps, doing tricks like the "superman," has been growing in popularity since it was introduced in the United States in the 1960s. Today, some riders are as popular as rock stars and those at the top of their game are showcased at high-profile competitions like the X Games. But, for the most part, women have been left out of the sport, especially in television coverage and prize pools. That is, until Miki Keller got involved.
Keller, who has lived in Bend for the past 14 years, doesn't look like the burly, beat-up motocross riders you see on TV. Her thick brown hair and movie-star smile don't suggest an extreme athlete. But Keller is not only a motocross rider herself, she is also responsible for putting women's motocross on the map.
Keller, who works in sports marketing, co-founded Wide Open MX Magazine, the first magazine for freestyle motocross riders. She wanted to do something to get more women racing and to get media outlets like ESPN to showcase women's motocross races. So in 2000, Keller founded the Women's Motocross League, and in 2004 she started the Women's Motocross Association.
"I wanted to elevate the level of women's racing," Keller says. "I wanted to give more opportunities to amateurs, to help them have a career and to get women on TV. There were good athletes working hard and they just weren't given a chance."
Before the WMA, the only chance women had of competing on a big stage was if they raced against men. But the sport was growing, and a women's racing series was the next logical step. Now, the WMA owns and operates a professional motocross series for women and promotes amateur races. Thanks to Keller, you can see these women ripping around tracks on ESPN, in magazines and at the X Games.
It wasn't easy, though.
"There were some politics," she says, "I think a lot of people think women on dirt bikes were just putting along - not being aggressive, strong, talented athletes. We had to break down some of those misconceptions about women in the sport."
What started in 2004 as a small company grew so large, to the point that, last year, Keller decided to sell the WMA to MX Sports. She's still heavily involved in the sport - she represents up-and-coming riders and is the women's supercross director for the X Games.
No matter what, Keller's mark will be left on the sport. Top women riders are now sponsored by factory teams and are able to make a living as professional athletes. And Keller is happy she can get back to her favorite part of the sport - being a fan.
"I love watching the races," she says. "You get behind certain racers you want to do well."
Thanks to Keller, now the rest of America can, too.
Dominica "Miki" Keller
Occupation: Independent Contractor
in Marketing and Promotions
Claim to Fame: Founder of Women's
Awards: 2007 Women In Motorcycling USA Image Award