It’s the hardest all-women’s sporting event in the world. So, why participate? Sabrina Howells, of LA, is a first generation American who has appeared in motion pictures and national television commercials. She joined the legendary Rallye for the third time this year and plans to go back next year!
The Rally’s rules prohibit GPS and require its participants to navigate to a series of checkpoints each day for nine days using only a compass, plotter and ruler maps that date from the 1960s! 158 teams representing 33 countries joined this year with ten U.S. teams–the greatest number ever representing the U.S. For the first time there was an “Expert” division in the 4WD class that drew Howells and teammate Amy Lerner, who competed for the 4th time this year. U.S. women ranged from a Hollywood stuntwoman to Dakar class winner, former Wall Street trader, a producer, and Moms.
Howells, whose Mom was born in Buenos Aires, learned about the rally from a “kickstarter” for a potential documentary my girlfriend wanted to do. “I was blown away. I couldn’t believe an event like this existed. My father passed when I was 2, so I was raised by an incredible and strong, single mom, who enforced the desire to be a strong woman. Anytime I see a challenge that maybe stereotypically male, I want so badly to be a part of the women who crush that stereotype-the Rally seemed to be exactly that. Although I knew nothing about cars or navigation, I knew I needed to experience this obviously life-changing event. I needed to push the limits, challenge my strengths and see what this crazy Rally was about!”
“Your first year at the Rally is overwhelming. I had very little training because I found out I was going last minute. I was called to see if I wanted to jump in less than three months before the Rally- I hadn’t taken so much as an REI compass course. It was on-the-job training, learning every day in Morocco, making mistakes, and learning more! Me and my driver, Emme Hall, knew we wanted to come back and really compete, so we went back in 2014 and ranked 29th!”
“This year I returned with Amy Lerner, who needed a navigator. I jumped at the chance to be in the Expert Class, which was even harder with one extra checkpoint per day, longer distances, and tougher terrain. The first two days I didn’t have time to eat lunch!
The best take-aways? “The way this rally forces you to think outside the box is amazing. There are times you will see a situation that looks impossible, and through ingenuity, sweat and a little help from another Gazelle, that situation becomes ‘all kinds of possible’. My communication skills also grew exponentially. It’s a great lesson to take into the real world. But the best take-away is that I am strong– and capable. It’s really empowering to finish. I wish every woman in my life could have the opportunity to experience it.”
Will you return? “Emme and I are already in talks for 2016. It gets under your skin and in your blood. Each year you learn about the rally and yourself; you feel this drive to return and put that new knowledge to use. It’s not about winning, but being a better you. Beating your own best.”
For further information, contact Emily Miller (916-719-9949), [email protected]
Addendum: Sabrina’s Mom was born the youngest of three daughters to Horacio (Papi) and Angeles Pécora. “Papi was a tango singer in Argentina (he played for Evita once!) and gave it up to move his family to the USA when my mom was 13 so they had a chance at a better life. My Mom has always been really proud of my participation in the rally. She says I take after my dad with his sense of adventure- and my navigational skills! She gets lost driving down the street My Mom has been supportive of every adventure I’ve gone after- she is my biggest cheerleader. My first year trying to raise money to do the Rally, she sold empanadas and chimi churri sauce at her school. I mean who could ask for a better Mom. She definitely was a little worried about safety, in terms of it being in Africa and it just being a car Rally – something neither of us were super familiar about. But she knows me and knows once I have something in my mind to do, I’m gonna do it, so she chose to focus on the excitement of it all.”
Sue Mead is an automotive journalist and author, as well as an off-road adventurer and racer. She travels the globe test driving cars and trucks, working for magazines, newspapers, television, radio and the Internet to provide vehicle reviews, as well as adventure stories about racing and automotive expeditions throughout the world.